TORONTO―Canadians may have a global reputation for being warm toward other nations, but when it comes to Asia, they’re as chilly as Canadian winters.
And that could be costing them in lost business opportunities.
A recent poll by the Asia Pacific Foundation (APF) ―a think-tank on Canada-Asia relations― found only nine per cent of Canadians have warm feelings for China.
India didn’t fare much better at just 12 per cent. Yet, 64 per cent of Canadians felt warmly toward Australia and 43 per cent felt that way about the U.S.
A new initiative to get Canadians talking about their feelings could change that, and make Canada more competitive in those markets as a result.
The APF has launched the National Conversation on Asia―a collective of industry, government, and other stakeholders that’s exploring both policy and attitude changes to help Canadian businesses tap into growing Asian opportunities.
The rising power of countries such as India and China is being felt across all Canadian industries, from education to business, says APF President Yuen Paul Woo.
“Canadians need to put sufficient thought into how Asia impacts them and how they should respond to the geo-political power shift,” Woo says.
A big focus of the initiative is on manufacturing, which could benefit from improved Asian relations in light of the still-recovering U.S. economy.
“The fastest growing markets are outside of North America but many Canadian manufacturers don’t have the knowledge, contacts or experience to develop there,” Woo says.
The initiative is also looking at how Canadian companies can take advantage of import and export opportunities, joint ventures and research, and foreign investment.
APF is working with industry groups such as the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses and Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters (CME).
“This is very timely because many Canadians don’t have a good enough understanding of what’s happening in these rapidly growing regions,” says Jean-Michel Laurin, vice-president of global business policy with CME.
‘Everyone needs a China strategy,” Laurin says.
But manufacturers can also learn from markets such as Indonesia and Singapore, which has some of the most advanced innovation systems and international business know-how.
“Another area where we’re seeing huge opportunity is Hong Kong. It’s a gateway to other Asian countries that Canadian business could be leveraging.”
Laurin says it means re-thinking policies to make Canada more competitive in Asian markets, such as building the infrastructure to export energy and preventing brain drain.
“One of the key success factors is having people in your company who know those markets, their customs and culture. A lot of Asian immigrants come to study here but we’re not doing a good enough job to keep them in Canada,” Laurin says.
He says success in these regions will be a significant factor in how Canada performs economically over the next 10 years.
“Asia can’t be avoided. We need to engage all Canadians in building more bridges there.”