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Melita Gabric is the European Union ambassador to Canada.

Recently the sometimes-rocky COVID-19 vaccine rollout on both sides of the Atlantic has preoccupied the European and Canadian public. This is understandable: We all want to get back to our normal lives. But while the pace of vaccinations has been the focus of our collective concerns, it is also important to recall the long and close partnership between the European Union and Canada.

It has sometimes escaped public attention, not just in Canada but also worldwide, that the EU is among the biggest exporters of vaccines in the world. Out of nearly 280 million COVID-19 vaccines so far produced, the EU has exported 136 million to 43 countries – nearly half of its total production.

This happened despite considerable domestic political pressure to increase the pace of vaccinations within EU member states. It gives me great pride to say that the vast majority of all COVID vaccines dispensed in Canada – as of mid-April, 83 per cent – came from EU-based manufacturers. This alone reflects just how close the ties are between the EU and Canada.

The European Union opened its diplomatic representation in Ottawa 45 years ago, in February, 1976. We were both young partners then: The European bloc only had nine of its current 27 member states, and Canada had yet to ratify its pioneering Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Neither were yet members of the Group of Seven. We’ve come a long way since together, and have built a strong strategic and economic partnership. Our trade in goods alone now amounts to $80.6-billion annually. The EU is Canada’s second-largest export destination, after only the United States.

Our collaboration is deeply rooted. Canada made great sacrifices to ensure the freedom and prosperity of the European continent in two disastrous world wars during the last century – something we in the EU shall never forget. And Europeans have made proud and lasting contributions to the development of this land, from coast to coast to coast.

As two multiethnic, multinational democratic entities, the EU and Canada have linked arms to support multilateralism and work together to uphold, reform and extend international norms, standards and global co-operation. This includes our vital joint efforts on climate change, biodiversity and inclusive models for digital transformation – to name but a few of our many areas of collaboration. We see eye-to-eye on the fundamental imperative of gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, issues at the heart of both the EU’s external action and Canada’s feminist foreign policy.

As democratic systems founded on respect for individual rights and the rule of law, the EU and Canada are facing perhaps the most serious challenges from rival anti-democratic systems in our long history together. It is crucial that we stick together as we face such challenges – something our recent complementary actions in deploying the powerful tool of sanctions against Chinese and Russian perpetrators of human-rights violations only underlines. So does the EU’s unwavering support for Canada’s initiative against the arbitrary detention of foreign nationals and for the release in China of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.

And we’re always exploring the use of other diplomatic tools to further such international co-ordination in defence of democratic freedoms. While the change of administration south of the border will surely augment such efforts, EU-Canada relations alone are already indisputably important in building a new transatlantic agenda for global democratic co-operation.

As we face the challenge of a post-COVID economic recovery, we have an important tool to deploy – our recent free-trade agreement, CETA. In just over three years it has already helped thousands of Canadian and European companies enter markets on opposite sides of the Atlantic. Among the most progressive trade agreements ever signed, CETA has been a vehicle supporting trade and gender equality, and a transition to increasingly environmentally sustainable economies.

Recently Josep Borrell, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs, observed that we can choose solidarity, multilateralism and global partnerships – or we can follow the path of nationalism and of everyone fending for themselves. In these trying times, the EU’s answer has been both clear and decisive: We’ve chosen the first. We’ve opted for partnership and solidarity both within our bloc and beyond its borders.

We have little doubt that if we stick together and continue meeting our challenges together, as we have for so many decades, we – the EU and Canada – will rise to the occasion and build a more sustainable, just, and healthier world.

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