OTTAWA – International Trade Minister Ed Fast arrived in Kyiv on Sunday for two days of meetings as fighting intensifies between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists in the east of the embattled country.
Fast, who has been to Ukraine twice is the last six months, is there to talk free trade his counterpart, Aivaras Abromaviius, but also plans to announce four initiatives.
They will include greater support economic and governance reform as well as a program to promote sustainable economic growth for Ukrainian small and medium-sized farm businesses.
Canada is hoping the initiatives will “promote effective economic development to increase private sector-led growth, investment and job creation,” according to government documents.
Negotiations towards such an agreement were given a high-level political jolt last fall during Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s visit to Ottawa, where he and Prime Minister Stephen Harper ordered officials to accelerate their work on the pact.
There will be a full round of face-to-face talk among officials in the near future and the file is now “in high gear,” Fast said.
The minister arrived one day after 30 people were reported killed in shelling in the east Ukrainian port city of Mariupol.
The attack was blamed on Russian-backed rebels and follows the separatists’ rejection of more peace talks.
The United Nations said on Friday that 262 had been killed in the previous nine days.
Mariupol, on the Sea of Azov, is in government hands and situated along a coastal route from the Russian border to Crimea, which was annexed by President Vladimir Putin’s regime last March.
Local media reports quote the city council saying rockets were fired by rebels on Saturday using a long-range GRAD missile system. The missiles struck a multi-story building, which subsequently caught fire.
Over the weekend, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird condemned the attack.
“This disgraceful act further demonstrates Russia’s ongoing campaign of aggression against Ukraine and its shocking willingness to sacrifice civilian lives to achieve its illegitimate goals,” Baird said in a statement.
“We call on Russia to immediately respect the ceasefire, immediately end its support of these proxies and allow peace to return to eastern Ukraine.”
The Harper government, which handed out $314 million in economic assistance to Kyiv since the crisis began last year, sees strengthening the Ukrainian economy as a vital pillar in the strategy to resist Russian expansionism.
Canada and Ukraine already do about $322 million in trade.
The Harper government says it is looking for Canadian companies that want to invest in the agriculture and agri-food, aerospace, energy, mining and education sectors.
Fast is also expected to meet the country’s finance and agriculture ministers during his trip.