On Monday, Justin Trudeau told a Canada-Ukraine business forum in Toronto that he will be in Ukraine on July 11-12 after attending the NATO leaders’ summit in Poland and visiting the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, where the Nazis killed more than 1 million Jews, the National Post reports.
Trudeau called the trade deal a “priority,” according to prepared remarks. “We stand firmly beside Ukraine as you lead important reform efforts in your country,” he added, “including directly supporting efforts to strengthen democracy, respect the rule of law, and encourage economic growth.”
In an interview from the business forum, Ukrainian Finance Minister Oleksandr Danylyuk said the free trade agreement signing ceremony will be the highlight of Trudeau’s visit. “This is a big milestone for us,” he said.
The deal may not be the biggest for Canada or Ukraine, particularly when compared to the two countries’ trade agreements with the European Union. However, Ukrainian officials are hoping it will facilitate Ukraine’s continued shift westward and away from Russia, and encourage more Canadian investment into the country.
“Despite the support we are receiving from the Ukrainian community here (in Canada) and the Canadian government, this is not so much investment,” Ukrainian trade representative Nataliya Mykolska said in a separate interview. “We need a few flagship investors into Ukraine to lead the way.”
The agreement is also a win for the Liberals. Talks were launched by the Conservatives in 2009, but bogged down after pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych came to power the following year. Negotiations were officially suspended in 2013 after Ukraine tried to reopen parts of the deal that had already been finished.
The negotiations were quietly resurrected with Yanukovych’s ouster in a popular revolt and the election of a pro-Western government last year. Now it will be a Liberal government that will sign the deal, put it into force, possibly next year, and use it to court Canada’s sizable Ukrainian community.
Economic stability and growth have been identified as hugely important for getting Ukraine back on its feet after a tumultuous few years, which included Russia annexing Crimea and the emergence of Russian-backed separatist forces in the east of the country.
Corruption and red tape have long discouraged foreign investment in Ukraine, Danylyuk acknowledged. However, he and Mykolska said the government has been working to address both in the hopes of making a more business-friendly environment and demonstrate what Mykolska called “the new Ukraine.”
In his speech, Trudeau reiterated Canada’s support for Ukraine in its standoff with Russia as well as its efforts to tackle corruption.
“We will continue to contribute assistance and expertise whenever possible,” he said. “Because we understand that a strong democracy is at the heart of economic prosperity. Ultimately, we want to help create stability in Ukraine so that the middle class can grow and thrive.”