In celebration of the International Women’s Day 2019, CABC spoke to Canadian Ambassador to ASEAN H.E. Diedrah Kelly to find out more about her work and views on the ASEAN-Canada economic corridor.

What are your forecasts for the global economy and possible ASEAN-Canada economic corridor for 2019?

The global economy is going through a period of uncertainty and adjustment. The multilateral rules-based economic order that Canada and other countries have known for the past few decades is feeling the effects of this global uncertainty. It requires strong partners and leaders such as Canada to continue to promote the importance of multilateralism and of rules-based institutions.

We all anticipate that Canada’s economy will continue to grow, driven by greater investments at home, and greater access to markets around the world, especially with ASEAN partners. Thanks to its vast natural resources, Canada is well positioned to satisfy emerging economies’ demand for the energy and raw materials needed to sustain their growth, while being one of the world’s cleanest suppliers of natural resources. Canada is also a leader in the fields of agrifood, cleantech, aerospace, and information and communication technologies, to name only a few.

The ASEAN-Canada economic relationship has been expanding significantly over the past decade, which is in part a result of the complementarity of our respective economies, our increasing trade relationship and our close people-to-people ties. Since 2004, trade between ASEAN and Canada has increased at an annual average rate of 5.7 percent. We expect this growth to continue and strongly believe our economic relationship has significant untapped potential. Canada is a partner of choice given its stable macro-economic policies and strong, steady economic growth. Canada is also the only G7 country with trade agreements with all other G7 nations.

What trends do you see in ASEAN-Canada relations?

Canada has established a strong, stable relationship with ASEAN. As CABC members will recall, we have created a dedicated Mission to ASEAN and opened new bilateral missions so that we now have representation in all ASEAN member states. In 2017, we commemorated 40 years of Dialogue Partnership, an important milestone in Canada-ASEAN relations. Canada’s status as an ASEAN dialogue partner is important as it provides us preferential access to high-level meetings and ASEAN’s decision-makers. Canada is one of ten countries that benefits from this special partnership and we remain determined to enhance these ties with the strong support of our CABC friends.

ASEAN knows that we are a stable and reliable partner and that we are here to stay. I hope to see our relationship continue to grow and that we will be able to achieve new milestones and successes over the next few years.

What are your priorities for the year ahead?

Working with my colleagues at the ASEAN mission, our mission network in the region and officials at Global Affairs Canada, my key priority is to continue to expand the overall ASEAN-Canada relationship. At the September 2018 ASEAN Economic Ministers meeting with Canada, ministers agreed to intensify FTA exploratory discussions with a view to completing them in 2019. We are all committed to engaging with ASEAN colleagues to make significant advances in this partnership through trust and friendship, creativity and hard work.

Looking at ASEAN, where and what are the major opportunities for Canadian businesses and talents?

Given the tremendous strengths and expertise of our Canadian exporters and investors, and the strong reputation of the Canada brand, we are seeing great interest from across Southeast Asia. ASEAN covers a large region made up of strong and emerging economies and of markets of different sizes, and with this comes a wide range of opportunities in various industries including digital, agrifood, oil and gas, mining, aerospace, forest products, financial services etc. The current global economic environment is also affecting regional and domestic trends, as a result of the movement and adjustments we observe in global value chains, for instance.

What are the challenges?

As the CABC knows all too well, the markets of Southeast Asia are quite different from the Canadian or North American economies with which the majority of our exporters are most familiar. Southeast Asian markets require careful preparation and market analysis, and a commitment to be here over the long haul. There are language and business cultures to consider, as well as different regulations. This is where Canada’s multicultural diversity is such a huge benefit. Canadians have significant personal and professional ties to the ASEAN region, which brings an awareness of and respect for how to succeed in different environments. Another source of strength is our Trade Commissioner Service network across Southeast Asia, which can help Canadian businesses navigate market complexities to help make better, timely and cost-effective decisions in order to achieve their goals abroad. We are fortunate to benefit from a strong dialogue with the CABC in this regard.

How is the Government supporting the growing business ties between the two regions?

First, as one of the initial signatories to the CPTPP, Canada is sending a clear message to the Asia-Pacific region and the rest of the world about our commitment to and confidence in the region.  As mentioned earlier, in 2017 ASEAN and Canada agreed to launch FTA exploratory discussions. In 2018, Economic Ministers agreed to intensify exploratory discussions with a view to concluding the discussions in 2019. ASEAN and Canada also conducted an FTA feasibility study in 2017 and 2018, which demonstrated the strength of our economic relationship and the potential impact that an ASEAN-Canada FTA can have on our two-way economic relationship. The executive summary of the joint study is available on Global Affairs Canada’s website [here].

And we have voted with our feet: we have strengthened our representation across Southeast Asia with more trade commissioners whose role is to support export-ready Canadian businesses looking to enter or expand their presence in the region.

What does an average day look like for you as the Canadian Ambassador to ASEAN?

The beauty of this job is that it offers a new opportunity every day. Being Canada’s second dedicated Ambassador to ASEAN entails close cooperation with the ASEAN Secretariat and Committee of Permanent ASEAN Representatives, ASEAN Dialogue Partners, Canadian embassies in ASEAN countries, multilateral organizations, Canadian companies and associations active in the region, provincial representatives and other Canadian partner departments.  This engagement immerses me in strategic planning sessions with Canadian missions and meetings with key stakeholders across the ASEAN region.  I also try to carve out time every day with my husband and son. We are thankful to be living in Southeast Asia for the next few years, and I look forward to meeting many of you.

Finally, anything you’d like to say to CABC and our members?

Nobody succeeds by themselves. Canada is fortunate to have the CABC as a key partner of the Mission of Canada to ASEAN and its membership is crucial to our understanding of the opportunities in the region.  Growing the linkages between the CABC is a priority for our team so that we advance opportunities for Canadian businesses together. We have a great message to promote: Canada is the premiere place to invest in, to seek investment from and to do business with. This is a message that bears repeating and requires many voices to deliver. My colleagues and I are extremely motivated and excited to work with CABC to propel the ASEAN-Canada economic relationship to new heights and ambitions.