Canada’s trade minister says the federal government will proceed “promptly” with the ratification of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) as it looks to further broaden its trade strategy in the Southeast Asian region beyond so-called TPP11 borders.

“While some have said that this is the Asian century, and we have seen China rise to assume that mantle, I’ll put it to you that it’s also Canada’s century,” Minister François-Philippe Champagne told a select grouping of Canadian and international business leaders and policy experts attending the Canada-ASEAN Business Council’s (CABC) fourth annual business forum, held this year in Singapore.

“Now is our time,” he said. “We are here to stay.”

That was the message of Champagne’s keynote address Thursday to a largely pro-trade contingent: Canada is in Asia, with a progressive trade mandate, and with an awareness of what the minister described as enormous trade potential between Canada and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which, in addition to the CPTPP member countries of Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam, includes the growing regional economic powerhouses of Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines.

“I imagine a future of enormous potential between our countries,” Champagne told Business in Vancouver in a one-on-one interview. “That’s why it was important for me to be here and talk to the Secretary General [of ASEAN] about the next steps.”

Without committing to a timeline for officially launching free trade talks with ASEAN, the minister did note he was “cautiously optimistic” that discussions on a Canada-ASEAN free trade agreement (CAFTA) would proceed. (ASEAN Secretary General Dato Lim Jock Hoi also noted the association is “cautiously optimistic” Canada will move forward with exploring CAFTA.)

At present, ASEAN is Canada’s sixth-largest trade partner. Its population is young, growing and surpasses that of the European Union as home for more than 634 million people. By 2030, ASEAN is expected to be the world’s fourth largest economy.

“They see also the potential to engage with Canada, so I think it’s very important to show not only that we are here, but we’re here to stay,” said Champagne. “In Asia, it’s very important to show a Canadian presence consistently.”

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