Hon. Jean Charest, Honorary Chairman, Canada-ASEAN Business Council
Wayne C. Farmer, President, Canada-ASEAN Business Council
Thi Be Nguyen, CABC Canada Activities Chair, Manager, Office of the President and Major Donations, National Bank of Canada
April 23, 2020
Shortages of personal protective equipment (“PPE”) for Canada’s frontline healthcare workers due to the COVID-19 crisis have prompted urgent steps to seek new PPE supply chains. Initial efforts by Global Affairs Canada entirely focused on China, successfully sole sourcing an expected 145 million new N95 respirators. The federal government has swiftly committed C$2 billion in new spending towards this equipment sourcing effort.
Canada has learned, however, that when it comes to trade, putting all of our eggs in one basket (even a large basket) comes with significant risk. This is especially true with a country where Canada has existing underlying bilateral tensions. That makes it an immediate priority to geographically expand our suppliers.
Vietnam, already a manufacturing powerhouse and growing trading partner with Canada under the CPTPP, is following great success in managing its own COVID-19 situation by stepping up its efforts globally to help fight against this virus.
Vietnam has a high capacity for PPE production, including more than 8 million face masks per day, which has enabled it to engage rapidly as a commercial supplier. With exemplary diplomatic and humanitarian actions, Vietnam has taken further steps by donating nearly half a million masks to European countries (including France and Germany) and expediting the shipment of half a million hazmat suits to the United States.
Vietnam has earned significant international praise for its efficiency in containing the spread of the virus within its borders, including halting inbound flights, mandating school closures and quickly isolating the infected and their contacts. While the battle is ongoing, Vietnam has continued to maintain overall low levels of infection and has recorded several consecutive days of no recorded new cases of the virus.
Canadian private sector companies have also made remarkable efforts to supply urgently needed domestic equipment, such as CAE’s commitment to produce 10,000 of its new ventilators over the next three months.
Through continued diversification efforts, Canada can shift towards a more proactive, comprehensive approach that enables our federal and provincial governments to quickly respond to the needs of healthcare workers in any evolution of the pandemic. This is not a new strategy as diversification of Canada’s trading partners is already a priority of the federal government. In recent years we have seen important strides made through the signing and ratification of multilateral trade deals such as CETA and the CPTPP, the latter of which includes Vietnam and nine other Pacific trading partners.
Vietnam is also a core member of the 10-country ASEAN bloc (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), one of the world’s fastest-growing regions. In September 2019, Canada concluded exploratory talks on a free-trade agreement with ASEAN, with the potential for formal negotiations to start as early as August 2020. The Canada-ASEAN Business Council estimates such an agreement could offer substantial and largely equal economic gains of up to C$11 billion and be a catalyst for further growth in trade.
Canada has been a partner of Vietnam’s development for more than two decades. Building on historical development cooperation, Vietnam has also been one of Canada’s largest trading partners in the ASEAN region since 2015.
People-to-people ties are also strong. More than 240,000 Canadians are of Vietnamese origin and nearly 12,000 Vietnamese students studied in Canada last year. In 2019, nearly 160,000 Canadians visited Vietnam.
Vietnam is a country of rising strategic manufacturing importance and an increasingly important partner for Canada in Asia. Despite the COVID-19 slowdown, Vietnam remains one of the most vibrant economies in the world with a revised projected growth rate of 4.8% for 2020.
Canada needs to immediately engage Vietnam to request support for our COVID-19 efforts, based on our growing trading relationship and strong ties. That will help Canada to stabilize its domestic situation and contribute to the global fight against COVID-19 as Vietnam has done with its example of leadership and action.
(French version available here)
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