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Canadian Ambassador Isabelle Poupart | Dávid Harangozó

Interests and values

On the occasion of Canada marking the 150th anniversary of its Confederation, the Ambassador of the North American country to Hungary, Isabelle Poupart gave a extensive interview to the May issue of Diplomacy&Trade.

“It is a great honor for me to be here in Budapest to head
the Embassy of Canada to Hungary, which is also accredited to Slovenia and
Bosnia and Herzegovina. As Ambassador, my two main objectives, broadly
speaking, are to promote Canadian interests and to project Canadian values,”
Ambassador Poupart tells Diplomacy&Trade. She adds that her ongoing work in
support of the CETA ratification process neatly combines these two objectives “as
my team and I implement the Government of Canada’s progressive trade agenda.
But as we celebrate the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation, my work
also reflects the four broad themes of this important milestone: diversity and
inclusion, reconciliation from nation to nation with Indigenous people, the
environment, and youth. When it comes to my activities in Hungary, this has
translated into a number of discussions about Canada at high-schools and
universities throughout Hungary, which have always yielded very receptive
comments and interest.”

She mentions that she has been a regular visitor to
the CEU recently as a sign of support for this forward-looking and high-quality
institution. In addition to Hungarian senior officials and government
representatives, she is in regular contact with a broad range of civil society
stakeholders, notably valiant NGO representatives and dynamic members of the
cultural scene. “Engagement with the media and with the general public, notably
through social media (@AmbPoupart), is also part and parcel of my work”. She
also stresses the importance of the environment. “I am committed to promoting
greater cooperation between Canada and Hungary in that area, either through the
Regional Environmental Center in Szentendre or through enhanced partnership in
the field of water management, building on Hungary’s leadership as host of the
Budapest Water Summit. As you can see, my work is cut out for me during the
coming years.”

Canada 150

2017 marks
the 150th anniversary of the Confederation of Canada. As to what it means to be
Canadian today, Ambassador Poupart quotes a few words that have been used by
many Hungarians she has met since taking up her current assignment last August.
"To them, being Canadian means being open, inclusive, progressive, and
hard-working. I can only agree. Our Prime Minister Justin Trudeau often says that as
Canadians, we are strong not in spite of our differences but because of them.
What is striking about today’s Canada is how diverse a society it has become,
with multiculturalism at its core. When we adopted multiculturalism as our
official policy in 1971, we affirmed the value and dignity of all Canadian
citizens, regardless of their racial or ethnic origins, their language or their
religious affiliation, while confirming the rights of Aboriginal people and the
status of Canada’s two official languages, English and French. Enjoying equal
rights, however, also brings equal responsibilities, including when it comes to
upholding democratic values and the rule of law. Canada’s success as a diverse
and inclusive nation did not happen overnight; it required strong, continual
effort and political will, but it proves that diversity and inclusion can offer
a path to peace and prosperity.”

Solid and long lasting economic relations

According to Ambassador Poupart, economic relations between Canada and Hungary are solid and long lasting. In 2016, bilateral merchandise trade between Canada and Hungary totaled CAD 680 million. Canada exported over CAD 75 million worth of goods to Hungary and imported goods from Hungary worth over CAD 605 million. Trade in services, although difficult to quantify, is also an important component of our bilateral relationship. She expects that enforcement of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) will have a positive impact on the level of trade between the two countries. Canadian companies exporting to Hungary are active in several sectors, including communications, power transmission equipment manufacturing, transportation, information and communications technology (ICT), agriculture, oil and gas, and automotive. “These are priority sectors for the Embassy. In 2017, we are also targeting opportunities in defense procurement, education links and clean technologies where Canada has competitive advantages and a lot to offer Hungary. The Canadian Trade Commissioner Service (TCS) works diligently to improve Canada’s economic and trade relations with Hungary, closely cooperating with a broad range of partners in Canada, including Export Development Canada, and in Hungary. An integral component of the Embassy, the TCS assists Canadian companies to access the Hungarian market by providing information on local market conditions and opportunities, and identifying key Hungarian contacts that Canadians seeking to do business here need to know,” she stresses.

To illustrate the importance of the Hungarian market as a destination for Canadian investors, the Ambassador says, it is only necessary to look at the numbers. In 2015, Hungary ranked as the 18th largest recipient of Canadian investment globally and 5th in the European Union at CAD 7.86 billion. Leading Canadian investors in Hungary include Linamar Corporation (automotive), Bombardier Transportation (railway carriages), Magna International (automotive) and Molson Coors (brewery). Vermillion Energy of Calgary is active in oil and gas exploration and Semex (agriculture) has operations in the South of Hungary. The magnificent Gresham Palace Hotel – to the Ambassador’s knowledge, the only hotel in Budapest in front of which flies the Canadian flag – is managed by the Four Seasons Group, a leading international luxury hotel chain, while the expanding Budapest Airport is owned by Canadian investors.

She highlights that “clearly, each investor has its own reasons for investing in a particular market, but when it comes to Hungary, the benefits most often mentioned are its central geographic location at the heart of Europe and its developing infrastructure. Early Canadian investors have also indicated that they have established a presence in Hungary because of its highly skilled labor force, although, it must be recognized that this has become a more challenging issue of late due to shortages in some employment categories. From a Canadian perspective, it is also important to maintain a general environment conducive to foreign investments.”

CETA

The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada and the European Union was signed in October last year. The Ambassador explains that “CETA is the most ambitious and progressive trade agreement Canada and the EU have ever negotiated and we are looking forward to its provisional application later this year. The progressive trade agenda is one that advances higher standards of living, fosters sustainable and inclusive economic growth, more effectively promotes labor rights, results in stronger environmental protections, and emphasizes consultation with and economic opportunities for all segments of society. When CETA enters into provisional application, approximately 98% of all tariffs on manufactured goods will be eliminated, and there will be significant new opportunities for Canadian and Hungarian businesses in both the services and government procurement areas. Concretely, this means that tariffs will be eliminated on virtually all of Hungary’s exports to Canada, including automotive products which currently face Canadian tariffs of up to 6.1%.  This is very important for companies such as Linamar. Similarly, tariffs will be eliminated for ICT and electronic products (current Canadian tariffs of up to 6.5%) and on key agri-food products such as apple juice (current Canadian tariffs of up to 8.5%) and wine (current Canadian tariffs of up to 4.68 cents/liter). How could there be a better time to invest in our bilateral trade relationship, building on the strong people-to-people ties I have already alluded to?  In this context, I am delighted by Air Canada’s decision to expand its capacity on the new Toronto-Budapest route, which is the only direct flight between Hungary and North America – with a wide range of connections at both ends. It will boost both business and tourism, with more and more Canadians discovering Hungary and its neighboring countries through a relaxing cruise on the Danube.”

People to people

Canada
and Hungary recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of diplomatic
relations. In this regard, Ambassador Poupart highlights that “underpinning our
diplomatic relations is Canada’s large, dynamic Hungarian diaspora, which has
been present in Canada since the 19th century, contributing to the
economic, social, political and cultural vitality of our country. Today, more
than 325,000 Canadians proudly claim to have Hungarian roots. This has created
strong people-to-people ties." She notes that "since I arrived in
Hungary, I have met so many Hungarians who have told me about visiting family
members, studying or doing business in Canada, always with a lot of enthusiasm.
This is truly rewarding. But I would be remiss if I forgot to mention the fact
that Canada provided a safe haven for tens of thousands of Hungarians fleeing
the devastation of the two World Wars as well as the Soviet suppression of the
1956 Hungarian Revolution. These tragic events have deepened our countries’
commitment to freedom and democracy. Of note, in 1999, Canada was the first
Ally to ratify Hungary’s accession protocol to NATO, which I remember fondly as
I was a junior officer at the Canadian Delegation to NATO at the time.”

The
two countries have since partnered on many peace support operations around the
world, notably in Afghanistan and now in Iraq. Canadians and Hungarians also
monitor the situation in eastern Ukraine side-by-side as part of the OSCE
Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine.

The Ambassador notes from a trade relations
point of view that Hungary is now a major destination for Canadian foreign
direct investment. “During my tenure, I look forward to building on all that
has been accomplished so far, including by further strengthening our business
ties as Canadian and Hungarian companies take advantage of the benefits they
will derive from CETA’s provisional application.”

Political relations

Canada and Hungary enjoy strong relations and
work together in a number of international organizations, including the UN,
NATO and the OSCE. “Last October, we were honored that Hungary’s Minister of
Foreign Affairs and Trade, His Excellency Péter Szijjártó, visited Canada to
mark the 60th anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution. This is a
testament to the strength of our relationship and to our mutual interest in
bringing it forward. Hungary is also an important partner for Canada within the
EU. In March, Hungary ratified the Canada-EU Strategic Partnership Agreement
(SPA). Taken together with CETA, this agreement marks the beginning of a new,
dynamic chapter between Canada, the European Union and its member states,
underpinned by our shared commitment to progressive trade and common principles
and values. In the case of Canada and Hungary, this is exemplified by the
regular political consultations that take place between our senior officials,
the most recent of which focused on democracy and human rights, taking
advantage of the high responsibilities Hungary is entrusted with during its
tenure on the UN Human Rights Council,” Ambassador Poupart points out.

Cultural ties

Ambassador Poupart is of the view that culture has an
important role to play in the promotion of foreign policy, and that it is
always a great source of pride for her to see Canadian performers and artists
in Hungary. "Recently, the Embassy partnered with the Semaine du Film
francophone and with the Titanic Film Festival to present respectively ‘Just
the end of the World’ by Xavier Dolan and ‘Bird on a Wire’, the famous 1972
Leonard Cohen concert-movie by Tony Parker. As part of the month of the
Francophonie and in celebration of Canada’s 150th anniversary, we
also hosted a day-long “Cabane à sucre” event with the Café Dumas at the French
Institute, where our Hungarian guests could taste various maple syrup
specialties and even ‘poutine’. A few
weeks ago, I saw my first play in Hungarian at the Radnóti Theater, ‘Futótûz’ – a wonderful rendition of the
award-winning play by Canadian-Lebanese writer Wajdi Mouawad. Knowing Hungary’s
great circus tradition, I would recommend everyone to check out Varekai by Le Cirque du Soleil in
Budapest in mid-May. To discover emerging Canadian performing artists, one
should definitively head to this year’s Sziget Festival,” she points out. Through
innovative public diplomacy activities, such as a Canadian Skating Night at the
City Park ice rink, we are also trying to project the Canadian identity through
what most people associate with Canada: our love of winter and the sports that
come with it. Last fall, I had the pleasure to present the prize for Best
Canadian Player of the evening following a well-disputed Canada-Hungary hockey
game (which, I might add, we ended up winning, but only after Hungary scored
first!).”

As to
what impressions she has had over this short period of time in Hungary,
Ambassador Poupart says that “my husband, our five-year old daughter and I are
very happy in Budapest with our Hungarian teckel ‘Borshika’. Our current
favorite place has to be the Budapest Zoo. 
We also had a wonderful time at the City Park ice rink, which we visited
several times during the winter. Our family excursions have taken us so far to
Szentendre (including the Skanzen), Esztergom and Gödöllõ.  With the arrival of spring, we look forward
to discovering many other places in Hungary, building on the wonderful Easter
week-end we spent in the Tokaj region, where – needless to say – I sampled many
delicious Hungarian wines.”

D&T

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