Canada Set to Become ASEAN’s Newest Strategic Partner with Landmark Trade Pact

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A landmark development is on the horizon for Canada’s position within the Indo-Pacific region. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is all geared up to welcome Ottawa as its latest strategic partner during an anticipated visit by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to Indonesia.

In essence, the move forms a symbolic tribute, acknowledging Canada’s burgeoning influence in the region. It underlines significant advancements being achieved towards a Canada-ASEAN free trade pact.

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The partnership is slated for ratification while Trudeau, accompanied by Trade Minister Mary Ng, undertakes his visit to Jakarta on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The Prime Minister embarked on the journey to Indonesia on Sunday evening, along with his son Xavier. Scheduled for the visit is a meeting with Indonesian President Joko Widodo. The leaders will explore measures to combat climate change, ensure food security, and fortify economic relations, incorporating aspects of energy production and trade.

The formal commencement of the ASEAN-Canada strategic partnership will unfold on Wednesday. The stipulated agenda includes an address by Trudeau.

Wayne Farmer, President of the Canada-ASEAN Business Council, outlined the evolving relationship from Jakarta, stating, “ASEAN’s engagement with Canada has deepened exponentially more than it used to be. There’s an escalated pace of trade and engagement, marking a favorable progression in the right direction.”

Comprising Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam, the ASEAN bloc has gradually solidified its relations with Canada over the years. Talks had initiated in 2021 for a free trade agreement with Canada, even though it was not a strategic partner at the time. According to Farmer, the discussions are proceeding smoothly, with a deadline set for 2025.

The shift is a surprising one as Canada clinches this trading opportunity, which had been ear-marked by other strategic partners like the United States and European Union.

The Indo-Pacific region stands as Canada’s second most significant merchandise export market, next only to the United States, boasting a stunning two-way trade figure of $270 billion last year. However, the prime focus for local businesses is overcoming regional trade hurdles, with the merchandise trade with ASEAN seeing a nearly 29 percent surge in 2022 primarily in agribusiness—one of the biggest economic sectors.

According to Gaphel Kongtsa, Director of International Policy at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, “There’s a significant, growing demand for Canadian talent and products in the region.” This demand has fuelled rapidly in the wake of the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The scenario has triggered an intensified urgency for swift energy transition in the Indo-Pacific.

Industry leaders speculate that ASEAN views Canadian businesses as vital allies in delivering requisite technology, services, and products to address food security, facilitate green energy transition, and develop smart cities. As Farmer observed, “It’s a delicate balancing act to continue fostering economic growth, elevate their populace into the middle class, and navigate an energy transition to buffer environmental impacts.”

Government officials suggest that Trudeau’s visit will highlight this major theme: propelling climate action while engineering economic growth.