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Has Canada missed the trade boat to China, or is it mindful of the reefs? October 19, 2011

Posted by Dominique Millette in Asia, China, exports, foreign investment, international trade, trade issues, world economy.
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China will soon lead the world in economic output, yet Canada’s exports to it in 2010 only totalled $13.2 billion. The U.S. remains our largest trading partner, absorbing 74.9 per cent of all our exports, for a total of $299.1 billion. By way of comparison, in 2009, total merchandise exports from Australia to China were valued at A$42.4 billion, an increase of 31.2 per cent over the previous year. Australia’s population is 22,546,300 and the Australian dollar is worth about $1.05 CAD.

So: why does Canadian industry seem such a reluctant bride, or bridegroom?

On the one hand, as of this year, China’s economy is second only to that of the U.S., and appears poised to overtake it within 20 years at the most. Its billion-plus population makes it the biggest consumer market in the world for cars and energy, as it opens up to every other good available in the West. China also consumes enormous amounts of natural resources for its industries; it’s now the world’s biggest consumer of iron ore, steel, cement and copper. As a result of its newfound clout, China now leads in the G20 and is gaining influence in resource-rich Africa, observes Huhua Cao, an urban geography expert at the University of Ottawa.

On the other hand, the lack of formal, independent legal protection for investors and the fusion of the judiciary with the political branch of government create a lack of impartial recourse in case of dubious dealings, whether for trade or investment. And disputes there have been, observes Charles Burton, a Brock University Associate Professor specializing in Canada-China relations. Amongst other problems, he cites the potential for fraud, lack of regulatory enforcement and of intellectual property rights, and corruption. “Canadians don’t feel their contracts will be honoured,” Professor Burton proffers as an explanation for the still-low level of Canadian investment in China despite its booming growth. There have been ongoing negotiations between Canada and China since 1994, he states, but “there’s little incentive for China to implement such changes.” The slow approach to China on the part of Canadians may be a reflection of prudence.

Then, of course, there is the human rights question and Canada’s response to Tiananmen Square and other abuses, which echoed that of every other Western country. Economic, cultural and political relations between the two countries were abruptly suspended. Since then, Chinese officials have made no secret of their irritation at Canadian attempts to lecture them on rights issues. The Consul General in Toronto, Chen Ligang, compares relations to “a bird”. The head is “political trust” and the wings, trade and cultural exchange. “Political trust is essential,” he asserts. What this trust can bring, or take away, is not difficult to extrapolate.

Another roadblock to trade, and to any negotiations surrounding it, is the language barrier. In this respect, the immigrant population has a key role to play in bridging the differences between the two economies, argues labour and industry specialist Tony Fang, a York University Associate Professor.

Professor Fang disagrees with the blanket condemnation of Chinese business practices, calling it “an overemphasis on isolated cases.” He further points out that China has only integrated itself into the global economy since 1978, the year Chairman Mao died and Deng Xiaoping announced the end of economic socialism.

Professors Cao, Burton and Fang were three of the four panelists invited as part of the launch of The China Challenge: Sino-Canadian Relations in the 21st Century. Senator Vivienne Poy and Professor Cao coedited this collection of essays from Canadian scholars, policy-makers and industry spokespersons. Held at the University of Toronto’s Richard Charles Lee Canada-Hong Kong Library, the launch additionally featured Professor Louis Pauly, a scholar of international and comparative political economy, as a panelist. The Consul General in Toronto was also an invited speaker. Sponsors included the University of Toronto Libraries, the York Centre for Asian Research and the Asian Institute.

Missed opportunities or not, one thing Canada and China have in common is their emergence from the financial crisis relatively unscathed. Yuen Pau Woo’s essay, “Canada and China after the Global Financial Crisis,” notes that Chinese relative power on the global stage has grown as a result of the American meltdown. However, it states “Canada’s relative resilience during the economic crisis has not gone unnoticed in China. For a change, we are seen by the Chinese as a bastion of financial stability and not just as a vast source of natural resources.”

Canada, Germany and the Eurozone crisis October 8, 2011

Posted by Dominique Millette in Euro-Canadian relations, fiscal and monetary issues, translatlantic relations.
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Within the stormy seas of international economic interdependence, Canada has stood out as a beacon of stability in contrast to the EU and the U.S. Its unemployment rate is two percentage points below that of the American labour market after a more-than-hoped-for gain of 61,000 jobs in September of this year.

In the U.S., the gross debt is about 98% of GDP in 2011, at $14.7 trillion, while in Canada the number was 84 % in 2010. As one source explains it, the difference lies in Canada’s structural approach to debt reduction as a proportion of GDP, while the U.S. relied on tax revenue increases which could not be repeated.

The eurozone jobless rate, meanwhile, climbed to 10 per cent in August 2011, as the Greek debt-to-GDP ratio of 166 % threatened to bring down other EU economies.

Germany remains the locomotive of European growth, with an economy 500 times that of recent EU member Malta. With its population of 82 million, Germany outweighs the 10 million people total brought in by the five latest members. Several German officials within the European Central Bank (ECB) and within the Bundestag itself have voiced dissatisfaction at the need to bail out Greece and perhaps other failing economies.**

However, as visiting speaker Harald Leibrecht explained at the Munk Centre for International Studies on October 6, Germany has little choice but to agree to EU assistance. “We have to save Greece, I’m convinced of that”, he agreed, even at the cost of a haircut which some have estimated could be 60 % of existing bonds. Mr. Leibrecht is the Coordinator for Transatlantic Relations of the German government, as well as a member of the Bundestag. “This is uncharted territory for all of us,” he said, adding that German voters are “simply staggered by the billions of euros we are required to provide.”

He compared Greece to the Lehman Brothers, the U.S. financial institution belatedly recognized as “too big to fail”. However, one wonders whether the more apt comparison might not be Goldman Sachs, which was bailed out, to the tune of $12 billion and to the chagrin of many in the U.S. population.

“The EU is a strange club. You can become a member but there’s no way out,” mused Mr. Leibrecht, noting that European unity is nevertheless not in question. Going back to the DM would be “easy, but would not solve our problems”. In the case of Greece, which represents only 2 % of the EU economy but could spread contagion to others, “we can only decide between two evils,” he said. However, he observed that Greece has always been a strong part of Europe. As for the domino effect, the German representative argued on a more optimistic note that Portugal and Ireland “did their homework.”

Concerning world economic stability, “I know our discussions are followed closely here in Canada”, since a failure of the eurozone would affect the whole world, acknowledged Mr. Leibrecht. “Europeans admire that Canada is much less affected by the financial crisis than the EU and the U.S.”, he observed.

Indeed, our regulatory culture has helped our banking system avoid the worst of what hit both the American and European banks. Even though the four pillars of financial transactions – banks, trusts, insurance companies and brokers – went through deregulation at the ownership level in the 1980s, this did not have the same effect as the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act in the United States. In short, the Canadian financial sector remained conservative, with lower debt-to-asset ratios than its American counterparts.

What remains to be seen, of course, is to what point Canadian voices are genuinely heard at G20 and G8 summits and meetings. We have much to say. The key is to parlay words into collective action.

To Harald Leibrecht, Canada and the EU are closer to each other than any other partners on many positions, but have yet to make full use of this. “What I’m a bit anxious about is the way EU members internally and with North American partners are not taking decisions together.”


** Update: most recently, the Bundesbank has been reported as objecting to any haircut whatsoever for Greece.

Translators and interpreters help save lives. La traduction et l’interprétation au service de l’humanité. October 5, 2011

Posted by Dominique Millette in Canada, cultural industries, Disaster aid, Disaster zones, Language industries, NGOs.
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Whether in disaster zones or aiding NGOs carry out their crucial tasks, linguists play a crucial role in ensuring communication flows freely for those in distress.

To highlight this lesser-known aspect of the business, Glendon College in Toronto invited two guest speakers in honour of International Translation Day on September 28: Henry Dotterer, founder of the online translation agency Pro-Z and board member of Translators Without Borders; and Lola Bendana, president of the International Medical Interpreters Association (IMIA).

Two Canadians have founded or helped direct organizations to do just that. Lori Thicke, a Torontonian working in Paris, founded Translators Without Borders in 1993 after Doctors Without Borders (MSF) approached her for a quote. She decided to provide the humanitarian work for free. As Henry Dotterer tells it, MSF answered they had a budget to pay the work. Thicke replied that the money could be used to provide more vaccine, which was the subject of the work to be translated.

Since that time, TWB has attracted 678 volunteers to its database. Translators are screened through a rigorous testing process before they gain admission. After that, it’s up to the humanitarian organizations and volunteers to find each other and agree on projects. Amongst the NGOs served are Oxfam, MSF, Zafèn, the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Enfants du monde and GoodPlanet. After the earthquake in Haïti, volunteers helped translate documents on how to manage clinics where amputations are performed; and how to treat shock and trauma. TWB supports about 40 active clients. Its next mission: to expand into Africa and help build the translation industry there, for local languages as well as better-known ones.

Meanwhile, Lola Bendana, the Toronto-based president of the IMIA, helps coordinate efforts to reach out to disaster victims worldwide. The IMIA is an advocacy organization founded in 1986, representing 70 languages, 2,000 members and 11 countries and dedicated to professionalizing medical interpretation. A Glendon College English-Spanish translation programme graduate, Bendana usually opposes the idea of translators and interpreters working for nothing. However, humanitarian work is a crucial exception. Through its Disaster Relief Interpreter Database, the IMIA puts volunteer medical interpreters in touch with NGOs and other organization working in natural catastrophy zones.

The initiative was born from the Haïti earthquake in January 2010. For seven weeks, the Comfort Hospital Ship ministered to patients; however, the first volunteers were non-professionals who did not have any in-depth knowledge of medical terminology, which proved problematic. As a result, the Red Cross approached the IMIA for help. The earthquake and tsunami in Japan in March 2011 provided another unfortunate opportunity to lend assistance, as Japanase IMIA representative Kazumi Takesako organized a group of volunteer interpreters and reached out to translators as well. The latter were needed to help with documents concerning nuclear problems at the Fukushima plant. Takesako had vowed to prevent tragedies such as the case of a mother in a previous earthquake who lost her baby

Interpretation can be wrenching for other reasons. Bendana is of Nicaraguan origin and was studying in Costa Rica when she was sent to the border to assist Nicaraguan refugees. Her professors had advised all student interpreters to explain to the refugees they should lay out the political reasons for their asylum claims. However, the refugees would say they had trouble feeding their children. They feared being killed if they told the truth: not being allowed to work and having parcels of land confiscated, Bendana said.

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Que ce soit dans les zones de catastrophe ou en aidant les ONG à effectuer leurs tâches essentielles, les linguistes jouent un rôle indispensable au niveau de la libre communication entre les personnes en détresse et les organismes de sauvetage.

Afin de mieux faire connaître cet aspect de l’industrie, le Collège Glendon à Toronto a invité un conférencier et une conférencière à l’occasion de la Journée internationale de la traduction le 28 septembre : Henry Dotterer, fondateur de l’agence de traduction en ligne Pro-Z et membre du conseil de Traducteurs sans frontières; et Lola Bendana, présidente de l’association internationale des interprètes médicaux et médicales, la International Medical Interpreters Association (IMIA).

Deux Canadiennes ont soit fondé, soit aidé à diriger des organismes à faire exactement cela. Lori Thicke est Torontoise basée à Paris et a lancé Traducteurs sans frontières en 1993 après que Médecins sans frontières (MSF) l’ait approchée pour qu’elle leur fasse un prix. Elle a décidé plutôt de fournir le travail humanitaire gratuitement. Comme le raconte Henry Dotterer, MSF a répondu qu’on avait le budget pour le travail. Thicke a répondu que l’argent pourrait servir à fournir davantage de vaccins, le sujet même du travail à traduire.

Depuis, TSF a attiré 678 bénévoles à sa base de données. On évalue des traducteurs à l’aide d’un rigoureux processus d’examen, après quoi il en revient aux organismes humanitaires et aux bénévoles de se retrouver et de s’accorder sur les projets. Les ONG qui profitent du service comprennent Oxfam, MSF, Zafèn, la fondation Fais-Un-Vœu, Enfants du monde et GoodPlanet.  Suite au tremblement de terre d’Haïti, des bénévoles ont aidé à traduire des documents sur la gestion des cliniques où on effectuait des amputations; et sur le traitement du traumatisme et du trauma. TSF appuie environ 40 clients actifs. Son prochain défi est d’offrir davantage de services en Afrique et d’aider à y bâtir l’industrie de la traduction, tant pour les langues locales que pour celles qui sont mieux connues.

De son côté, Lola Bendana, la présidente torontoise de l’IMIA, aide à coordonner les efforts effectués pour rejoindre les victimes de catastrophes partout dans le monde. L’IMIA est un organisme de revendication, fondé en 1986, voué à la professionnalisation de l’interprétation médicale. Il regroupe 2 000 membres de 11 pays parlant 70 langues. Diplômée du programme de traduction de l’anglais vers l’espagnol du Collège Glendon, Bendana s’oppose habituellement à l’idée du travail gratuit pour les traducteurs et interprètes. Cependant, le travail humanitaire est une exception fondamentale. Par le biais de sa base de données d’interprètes pour le secours des personnes sinistrées, l’IMIA permet aux interprètes médicaux et médicales bénévoles de communiquer avec les ONG et autres organismes oeuvrant en zone sinistrée.

L’initiative est née du séisme haïtien de janvier 2010. Pendant sept semaines, le navire hospitalier Comfort a soigné les sinistrés; cependant, les premiers bénévoles n’avaient pas de formation professionnelle et ne connaissaient pas la terminologie médicale, ce qui a occasionné des ennuis. Donc, la Croix-Rouge a approché l’IMIA pour demander de l’aide. Le séisme et tsunami au Japon en mars 2011 a fourni une autre malheureuse occasion de prêter secours : la représentante japonaise de l’IMIA, Kazumi Takesako, a organisé un groupe d’interprètes bénévoles et a également demandé l’aide des traducteurs. Ces derniers étaient nécessaires à la traduction de documents concernant les problèmes nucléaires à l’installation de Fukushima. Takesako avait juré d’empêcher les tragédies futures semblables à celles d’une mère qui avait perdu son enfant au cours d’un séisme antérieur, parce que les secouristes ne voyaient pas le bébé et ne comprenaient pas ce qu’elle disait pour les avertir.

Le métier d’interprète peut s’avérer déchirant pour d’autres raisons. Bendana est nicaraguayenne d’origine et faisait ses études au Costa Rica lorsqu’elle a été envoyée à la frontière pour venir en aide aux réfugiés du Nicaragua. Ses professeurs avaient avisé tous les interprètes aux études d’expliquer aux réfugiés qu’ils devaient donner des raisons politiques pour leur demandes d’asile. Cependant, les réfugiés disaient qu’ils éprouvaient des difficultés à nourrir leurs enfants. Ils craignaient se faire tuer s’ils disaient la vérité : soit qu’on ne leur permettait pas de travailler et qu’on leur confisquait leurs lopins de terre, a dit Bendana.