This time last year, writing in this space, I was proud and excited to be starting my first year as the new President and CEO of Export Development Canada.
The year before I took on my new role, the corporation had proved its ability to expand its influence in the market and deliver greater value for more Canadian exporters. EDC had nearly doubled its customer count, launched new products and services, and opened new offices. That was 2018, the year we proved we could do more.
In 2019, EDC built on that momentum. And we showed not only the ability to do more business, but a willingness to do business differently.
International trade has the incredible potential to generate wealth, create jobs and lift people around the world out of poverty. But, mismanaged and unregulated, it can also have negative impacts, on the lives of people and communities, and on our environment. This understanding underpinned two major initiatives of 2019.
EDC’s new Human Rights Policy, released in May of 2019, overall aligns our organization with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, and provides essential clarity to our customers and partners on where we stand on human rights. It recognizes that EDC’s support could be connected to human rights risks and that we, as a financial institution, have a responsibility to ensure that they are prevented and mitigated across our portfolio of transactions. Our Human Rights Policy is one important tool that will help EDC step up and play the role it must – to do better business.
This initiative has garnered much positive attention from civil society and other stakeholders. It’s also a policy that is close to my heart. Having grown up in Northern Ireland during the 1970s and '80s, I know first-hand the human cost of living in a society divided by prejudice and discrimination. I also know we all have a role to play in defending human rights and building inclusive societies, safe communities and welcoming places. I myself continue to learn about the complex interactions between business and human rights, including through my participation in international forums focused on this area. Since I took on this role, I’ve had the opportunity to share EDC’s human rights journey – both our successes and where we could have done better – and continue to drive forward efforts to work ahead to continue to strengthen our practice.
In January of 2019, EDC also released its first dedicated Climate Change Policy, which recognizes the need to be proactive and informed in response to the global transition to a low-carbon and climate-resilient economy. This document commits our organization to measuring, monitoring and disclosing climate-related risks and opportunities, integrating climate change considerations into our business decisions and encouraging our partners to do the same. In addition to prohibiting any new financing for thermal coal mines, power plants or dedicated thermal coal infrastructure – anywhere in the world – EDC is also taking steps to reduce the carbon intensity of its lending portfolio, and these steps are elaborated on in our second annual effort to align with the recommendations of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures, which you will find in this report. I’m proud to say that this policy puts EDC among the world’s leading export credit agencies when it comes to initiatives to address this significant and complex global challenge.
Another area where we continued to show leadership was in clean technology. In this priority sector, we continued to expand our risk appetite and our investment in new solutions to help these exporters grow. To date, we have facilitated over $9 billion in Canadian cleantech exports since 2012, maintaining EDC’s position as Canada’s single largest financier in the sector.
The innovative spirit of these new and exciting initiatives was also very much in play as EDC continued to develop its traditional lines of business, providing financing and insurance, as well as advice and knowledge, to Canadian exporters across the country.
In September 2018, we launched a pilot effort with National Bank, which was expanded nationally in November of 2018. The Trade Expansion Lending Program (TELP) was officially launched in 2019, with RBC joining on in March of the year. TELP provides banking partners with a predefined capacity to issue loan guarantees to their exporting customers, creating easier access to working capital for more Canadian exporters. I’m pleased to report that in 2019 the pilots not only succeeded, but also helped generate momentum for the creation of new partnerships with no fewer than four more Canadian banks in 2020.
In addition to expanding the value EDC can deliver, the program does something even more powerful. By embedding an export tool like TELP within the menu of products offered by Canada’s premier commercial banks, EDC helps expand the awareness of exporting as a small-business strategy. This is the kind of thinking that also underpins the incredible work we accomplished in 2019 with our expanding list of knowledge and advisory services – partnerships, webinars, workshops and events, among other initiatives – that continued to help thousands more Canadian companies understand the value and benefits of seeking success in international markets.
Expanding to global markets was also at the heart of the 2019 opening of two exciting new offices in Chicago and Atlanta. While Canadian exporters have a long history of success in the United States, recent challenges in this relationship have shown that our access “south of the border” is something we can’t take for granted. These new offices in the U.S. Southeast, and the Great Lakes regions of the Midwest, give Canadian businesses important new footholds in rich and dynamic regions of Canada’s biggest trading partner.
Here at home, among Canada’s entrepreneurial community, EDC was also active in ensuring a dynamic economic environment. To me, that means diverse and inclusive entrepreneurship. In 2019, EDC continued to play an important role in helping expand opportunities for women. So far, we have facilitated over $1 billion in business for women-owned and women-led businesses and, in 2019, helped 333 such companies take their first steps overseas and expand into new markets.
As the President and CEO of Export Development Canada, I also have the privilege of chairing the board of EDC’s subsidiary, FinDev Canada, Canada’s first development finance institute. In just its second full year of operation, FinDev Canada continued to find success and build even greater momentum in support of businesses in developing countries, reducing poverty, empowering the economic position of women and addressing climate change. By the end of 2019, FinDev Canada had invested over $124 million throughout nine transactions in Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America, in sectors such as agribusiness, green growth and local financial institutions, providing services to micro and small and medium-sized enterprises.
It’s important to note as well that 2019 was also the year that Export Development Canada celebrated its 75th birthday. Our launch, in 1944, was part of a global movement that saw the creation of scores of national and international institutions. The majority of these institutions had a similar goal: making the world a better place by developing economies, rules-based trade and the foundation of post-war international relations.
I believe EDC has a place of pride in that generation of institutions. Not just as an engine for Canadian economic success, but in our promotion of something just as important – Canada’s brand and values. I know that all of us take great pride as well in working at an organization that provides a safe, inclusive and welcoming workplace for all its employees. We are, ultimately, a company that strives to be as diverse and as caring as the country we serve. One of the many privileges of this job is the opportunity I have to travel the globe and see that brand and those values in action.
Today, entering my second year as EDC’s President and CEO, I am as proud and as excited as ever to lead an organization that, every day, helps bring that Canada brand and those Canadian values to the world.