Canadian values, including respect for human rights, won't be compromised in any trading relationship with Libya, International Trade Minister Ed Fast said Monday.
Fast, who just wrapped up a three-day trip to the country where he was promoting ties to Canadian businesses, was accompanied by representatives from 15 Canadian companies.
For "commercial and security reasons" the government is leaving it up to the companies to say whether they participated in Canada's first trade mission to Libya since dictator Moammar Gadhafi was ousted from power in a civilian uprising and killed.
Canada lifted its sanctions against Libya and re-opened its embassy in Tripoli in September. The embassy staffs a dedicated trade commission service that has been helping Canadian companies identify opportunities in Libya as it reconstructs after months of conflict.
Fast did say the companies that joined him on the trip are in the oil, gas, transportation, communications, infrastructure, construction and education sectors and that they had a "very productive" trip.
"Trade is a critical dimension of our partnership with a new Libya. That's what this trade mission was all about," Fast said in a teleconference from Rome after finishing the trip.
He and representatives of Canadian businesses met with local business leaders and a number of government officials. Fast said forging new business ties will benefit both countries.
"By working with local partners, Canadian firms will create jobs and prosperity for Canadians and Libyans alike," he said.
Trade talk comes amid human rights concerns
But Canada's push for more trade and investment in Libya comes amid recent reports of torture by Libya's interim government.
Canada expressed its displeasure over the reports through diplomatic channels in Ottawa and Tripoli and Fast said on Monday that he has personally raised the human rights concerns in his discussions with Libyan officials.
Fast said he has been assured by Libyan government officials that they take their responsibility to uphold human rights and ensure detainees are treated in accordance with international law "very seriously."
"Libya is not a perfect world. They are undergoing a remarkable transition from tyranny to democracy," he said. "That is going to take a lot of hard work and it's going to take a lot of hard work from the international community, including Canada, to assist them to transition into a country where these basic human rights are respected and where there is a robust human rights regime."
Fast, who will accompany Prime Minister Stephen Harper on his upcoming trip to China, said he impressed upon his counterparts that Canada expects Libya to respect human rights.
"We always let our trading partners know we will never compromise Canadian values," he said, referring to human rights and the rule of law.
Fast said the security situation is still "fluid" in Libya and that Canadian businesses interested in getting involved there as it rebuilds its economy should check Canada's travel advisories.
He said he believes the Libyan government is very keen to create a business-friendly environment and that he was encouraged by what he saw during his trip.
(Source: CBC News)