Credit: Straits Times

Canada became a dialogue partner of Asean in 1977. It has established a diplomatic presence in all 10 Asean member states and has a dedicated ambassador to the regional grouping. The relationship between Canada and Asean is substantive and multi-dimensional.

ECONOMIC BRIDGE

Last year, the two-way trade between Asean and Canada was C$23.3 billion. Asean was Canada’s sixth-largest trading partner. Canada was Asean’s 15th-largest trading partner.

The two sides recognise that there is room to increase trade and investment between them. They also recognise that it is important for them to defend free trade at a time when it is under attack by protectionist forces. In 2011, they adopted the Canada-Asean Joint Declaration on Trade and Investment (JDTI).

In 2015, they adopted a five-year work plan to implement JDTI. The plan has four focal areas: small and medium enterprises, education, innovation and corporate social responsibility.

Asean has concluded many free trade agreements (FTAs) and comprehensive economic partnership agreements with its dialogue partners. Isn’t it time to negotiate one between Asean and Canada?

Last year, the two sides agreed to explore the benefits and feasibility of such an agreement. The Canada-Asean Business Council (CABC), based in Singapore, has estimated that an FTA could increase trade by C$11 billion by 2027.

The CABC is strongly in favour of such an agreement. The president of the CABC, Mr Wayne C. Farmer, has written that “Asean and Canada are two trade-dependent regions with complementary economies and deep people-to-people ties… There has never been a more important time for Asean and Canada to seize the moment… CABC urges Asean and Canada to accelerate their partnership at this crucial juncture”.

Since September last year, Canada has been engaging with its Asean partners in FTA exploratory discussions, towards a potential Asean-Canada FTA. Canada, along with Asean members Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei, is also a signatory to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.

It is strategically important for Canada to enhance its economic links with South-east Asia at a time when the North American Free Trade Agreement is unstable and is being renegotiated.

Read Singapore Ambassador-at-Large Mr Tommy Koh’s full opinion piece on Straits Times (Subscription required)