Embassy, November 8th, 2006
By Brian Adeba
EU Envoy Calls For Free Trade Agreement With Canada
Dorian Prince seems to live and breathe the European Union. Not surprising for a man who spent nearly half of his working life serving the EU. It’s also not surprising for someone who began dreaming of working for Europe’s exclusive club of nations when he was only 11 years old. Today the 52-year-old diplomat, who has worked with the EU for 25 years, is the European Commission’s new ambassador to Canada.
It all started when he was in grammar school in the small mining town of Pontypool in Wales, where Mr. Prince says he grew up in a poor family. Two gentlemen visited the school and gave a lecture about the EU and planted the seed in the young man’s mind.
"I thought that the idea that nine countries working together and co-operating at that time in six languages was such a fantastic idea that this must be worth working for," he says.
Later, Mr. Prince went off to university, graduated, and started working in the textile industry. After some time, he saw a notice in the Financial Times asking people interested in working for the commission to apply. Two years after submitting his application (that’s how long it took to get a job with the EU then), he was employed. Over the years, he has served in different capacities, rising through the ranks to become head of delegation to the Republic of Korea four years ago.
As he settles into his new post, taking over from ambassador Eric Hayes who departed last month, Mr. Prince admits he was a bit shocked by the pace of things in Ottawa.
"Seoul is a city of 12 million, which is alive day and night-nothing ever closes," he says, elaborating that he was taken aback by the fact that in Ottawa "things close down at 5 p.m., and everybody has weekends."
"Koreans work on Saturdays and they think absolutely nothing of organizing functions on Sunday-it’s a seven-day week."
But all this hard work, he says, has paid off handsomely for Korea.
"Twenty years ago, Korea was a developing country with a GDP level slightly above that of Bangladesh, but today, it’s the world’s 10th largest economy."
Small talk aside, Mr. Prince turns to a much more serious matter. The EU, he says, has just carried out a major reassessment of its trade policy after realizing that many of its partners are embarking on free trade agreements. Mr. Prince says in the past, Canada had suggested a free trade agreement with the EU, but the request was turned down.
"Our argument at that time was if two very large developed countries go into an FTA at a time when the World Trade Organization was in a difficult situation, this would send a wrong signal."
With the reassessment, the EU is examining its long-term trading relationship with Canada.
"I would hope that Canada is also looking [and asking] ’what is our long-term relationship with the EU?’ Should they want an FTA with the EU, I think certainly now is the time to start talking."
Trade between Canada and the EU amounts to $30 billion (US) a year. Mr. Prince says this is "fairly low" considering the fact that Canada is dealing with an expanded EU, which has 27 countries and a population of 450 million. EU expansion offers new prospects to tap into Canada’s energy and technology sectors, he says.
"At the moment, we are not exploiting the full potential."
Asked whether he feels a new focus on trade with emerging powers like China, India and Brazil is detracting from Canada’s traditional trade ties with the EU, Mr. Prince says he feels the issue is of concern, both in Canada and Europe.
"I think there is a danger that the EU would ignore Canada and Canada might ignore the EU," he says.
"When you have a long-standing relationship, you take it for granted, and of course it’s not just Canada which is looking at emerging markets."
About the Kyoto Protocol, Mr. Prince says the EU strongly recommends that countries adhere to it and try to meet their targets. Developed countries, he says, must set an example.
"What kind of message will we be sending to the developing world if we don’t?" he asks.
Mr. Prince is fluent in French, German, Italian and Greek. He also has a working knowledge of Dutch, Korean, Spanish and Welsh, in addition to having a basic knowledge of Chinese, Russian and Turkish.
No wonder, he says, every time he travels to his hometown, people have a hard time placing his accent.
"When I tell them I live in Brussels, they tell me ’I thought so.’"