OTTAWA - The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is poised to elevate Canada to the status of a strategic partner, marking a momentous achievement in the region's economic landscape. This development underscores Canada's growing influence in the Indo-Pacific region and signals significant progress toward a potential free-trade agreement between Canada and ASEAN.
This strategic partnership is set to be formalised during the visit of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to Jakarta, Indonesia, accompanied by Trade Minister Mary Ng, scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday.
Trudeau's itinerary includes crucial discussions with Indonesian President Joko Widodo, focusing on climate change mitigation, food security, and the enhancement of economic ties, particularly in the areas of energy production and trade.
Wayne Farmer, President of the Canada-ASEAN Business Council, emphasised the substantial deepening of engagement with Canada. During an interview in Jakarta, he remarked, "We are witnessing increased trade and engagement, and this trajectory is indeed a positive one."
Although Canada has not yet attained official strategic partner status, ASEAN, a bloc comprising ten member states, commenced negotiations for a free-trade agreement with Canada in 2021. These negotiations are progressing favorably, with both parties aiming to finalize the agreement by 2025.
Achieving this trading opportunity holds substantial significance for Canada, particularly in the face of competition from well-established strategic partners such as the United States and the European Union.
The Indo-Pacific region is the second-largest merchandise export market for Canada, with a two-way trade value of $270 billion recorded last year. However, Gaphel Kongtsa, Director of International Policy at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, underscored the imperative for local businesses to address trade barriers within the region.
Canada's merchandise trade with ASEAN witnessed nearly a 29% growth in 2022, with the agribusiness sector emerging as a prominent economic driver. Kongtsa emphasised the increasing demand for Canadian goods and expertise in the region.
This demand has surged in the wake of economic disruptions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and geopolitical events, such as Russia's invasion of Ukraine. These events have accelerated calls in the Indo-Pacific for a transition toward cleaner and more sustainable energy sources.
Goldy Hyder, CEO of the Business Council of Canada, stressed the importance of assisting countries heavily reliant on coal in their transition to more sustainable energy options. He believes Canada can play a pivotal role in facilitating this transition.
According to Farmer, ASEAN perceives Canada and its companies as valuable allies in providing technology, services, and products to address critical issues such as food security, the transition to green energy, and the development of smart cities.
He emphasised the need for a balanced approach in developing nations, one that concurrently fosters economic prosperity while mitigating environmental impacts through an energy transition.
Government officials have indicated that during his visit to Jakarta, Trudeau will prioritize driving climate action while promoting economic growth
The Canada-ASEAN strategic partnership represents a significant stride forward for both parties. This development not only acknowledges Canada's expanding influence in the Indo-Pacific but also holds the potential to stimulate progress in employment opportunities within the region. The forthcoming free-trade agreement and increased economic cooperation offer promising prospects for both Canadian and ASEAN businesses.