Canada has dragged its heels developing trade with southeast Asian nations, and a scathing report says that gaffe has left us on the margins while other countries organize lucrative pacts in one of the most important economic regions in the world.
The report, released today by the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, a Vancouver-based think-tank that assesses Canada’s relations with Asia, says Canada’s lack of a “consistent and sustained policy” towards the region was ill-advised and now puts us behind economic forces such as India, China and the US in trying to organize trade with those countries.
The region, commonly known as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, includes Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Viet Nam.
Individually, these nations have little economic clout, but together they represent a market of 600 million people with a burgeoning middle class.
The association’s statistics-gathering agency ASEANStats has GDP pegged at US$1.5 trillion and 2008 trade of nearly US$1.9 trillion. If this were one country, it would represent the world’s 10th largest economy.
The report criticizes Canada for failing to sign free-trade agreements with any of these countries while New Zealand and Australia, India and South Korea already have agreements and the US has begun negotiating.
However, there may be change on the horizon. In late July, Canada acceded to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC), which finally brought it into talks with the 10 member nations and 18 others from outside the region to confirm a commitment to peace and stability.
“Canada’s accession to the Treaty is a strong demonstration of Canada’s engagement in Southeast Asia and its commitment to peace, security and cooperation in the region,” said Minister of Foreign Affairs Lawrence Cannon. “Accession to the Treaty will better position Canada to advance its commercial, security and human rights interests in Southeast Asia.”
While in Hanoi, Minister Cannon also joined ASEAN foreign ministers in unanimously adopting the Plan of Action to implement the Joint Declaration on ASEAN-Canada Enhanced Partnership.
“The ASEAN-Canada Plan of Action includes Canadian priorities in areas such as human rights, democracy, counterterrorism, security, trade and investment, and development,” said the Minister.
While neither agreement directly addresses conducting business, they could hopefully lead to more dialogue and trade pacts in the future, a development Brian Job, the author of the Asia-Pacific report, says is long overdue.