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Canada, Ethiopia starting talks towards investment agreement: Trudeau

Last Updated Feb 8, 2020 at 11:23 am PST

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau talks with African Union Special Envoy on Youth Aya Chebbi as he attends an African Union high level breakfast meeting on gender equality and womenÕs empowerment in Africa in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on Saturday, Feb. 8, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canada and Ethiopia are preparing to start negotiations towards a foreign investment protection agreement.

Trudeau is in Addis Ababa to meet with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and President Sahle-Work Zewde.

He spent more than two hours with Abiy, including more than an hour in a private tour of a new public park and zoo on the grounds of the prime minister’s residence.

He also had a working lunch with Zewde at Jubilee Palace.

Both meetings are part of Canada’s agenda to secure support from many African nations as it vies for a seat on the powerful United Nations Security Council in June.

However, Trudeau says this trip is about more than just the UN and told both Abiy and Zewde he sees immense potential for Canada and Ethiopia to help each other grow.

He says that’s why the two nations are about to start working towards an investment agreement.

“This visit is a chance for us to take our partnership and our friendship to the next level,” Trudeau said Saturday.

“We have an incredible opportunity before us.”

FIPAs, as they are often referred to in official circles, encourage investment between two nations. Canada already has at least two dozen FIPAs in place.

Ethiopia is not a big economic partner for Canada currently, with just $170 million in two-way trade in 2018, more than three-quarters of it Canadian exports.

However, Ethiopia is the fastest growing economy in Africa and one the five fastest in the world.

Trudeau also revealed a $10-million contribution to the African Union Commission for gender equality and women’s empowerment. He gave a speech at a breakfast hosted by the African Union and the funds were well-received by the mostly female audience. Trudeau is the first Canadian prime minister to attend an African Union event.

The breakfast was a side event to the African Union’s 33rd session in Addis Ababa on Saturday, but many African scholars in Canada say Canada’s efforts to advance its relationships in Africa comes very late in the game.

That was a feeling echoed by the head of one of Canada’s biggest challengers for two seats available in the group of countries Canada is in. Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg said Norway and Canada are pursuing African support in similar ways but that Norway has been a steadier partner over the years.

“I think one of the differences, of course, is we have been on the steady same path for a very long time, so they know us,” Solberg said.

Canada’s economy is larger but Norway proportionately spends more on foreign aid and international efforts, she added.

Cabinet ministers accompanying Trudeau insist the relationship with Africa is not last-minute, nor is it solely because Canada needs many of Africa’s 54 votes at the UN to win the seat. There are two seats up for grabs and Canada is vying for them against Norway and Ireland.

“It’s not like we were absent and now we are showing up,” said Families Minister Ahmed Hussen. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Solberg also met with Abiy and Zewde on Saturday. She also was in Ethiopia a year ago when she had talks with Abiy. This is Trudeau’s first visit to Ethiopia.

Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar visited Ethiopia and met with Abiy in January.

Where Abiy’s vote will go at the UN is unknown but he was warm to Trudeau. They spent more than two hours together at a private meeting, an expanded bilateral meeting with officials and ministers from both countries, and the tour at Unity Park.

The pulic park and museum was previously private space and is one of Abiy’s pet projects. At the end of the tour, Abiy and Trudeau had coffee and shared some Ethiopian food, and continued talking for more than 20 minutes.

Abiy told Trudeau that Ethiopia is grateful for the diplomatic relationship between the two countries, which began more than 50 years ago. But he added that Canada’s influence actually began much earlier than that with missionaries and Canadian aid dollars.

“We are very much grateful about it,” he said.

Trudeau told Abiy he is “much more interested” in building economic partnerships going forward.

Trudeau also met with African Union Commission chair Moussa Faki Mahamat, Rwandan President Paul Kagame and Ulisses Correia e Silva, the prime minister of Cape Verde.

Later on Saturday, he was to attend an African Union panel discussion about the “blue economy” which refers to the use of water bodies for sustainable economic prosperity.