Canada must deepen relationship with Asia, experts say

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“Canada as a whole has zero free trade agreements in Asia, compared to Australia, or the United States or European countries, who have multiple free trade agreements in the region. And the statistics go on and on. There are very clear measures of how we are lagging behind our peer group.”

From economic exchange to knowledge exchange 

Canada has not always lagged behind in its relations with Asia. For approximately two decades, beginning in the early 1980s,  Canada was actively engaged in the region. In addition to acting as a founding member of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), it provided intellectual leadership for the management of the South China Sea.

Jusuf Wanandi, the Co-Chair of PECC and a Senior Fellow and Co-Founder of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, recalled these contributions in an interview with The Vancouver Observer. In addition to trade, he said that he hoped that an exchange of knowledge would flourish between Canada and Asian countries.

“[Canada] is definitely starting to [come back to the region] and we would like to encourage her to be making greater steps and a bolder exchange,” Wanandi said.

Similarly, in the Canada Asia 2013 Keynote Address, Governor General David Johnston discussed how Canada could contribute to “the diplomacy of knowledge” in Asia by working across borders and disciplines to respond to the challenges the Asia Pacific region faces.

Moving beyond natural resource exports

While natural resources figure prominently in Canada’s relationship with Asia -- especially in relation to national debates about the possible construction of the Northern Gateway Pipeline and Chinese investment in the tar sands -- delegates at Canada Asia 2013 discussed the potential for Canada to move beyond its traditional role as a natural resource supplier.

“The big story in the years ahead is not commodity exports,” Woo said. “It is the shift in the demand away from resource dependency to higher-value added products to services to a better quality of life. And this is where Canadian companies have a comparative advantage, but we are not spending enough time and energy thinking about how we can develop those markets in Asia.”

“Canada is a good supplier [of natural resources for China],” explained Yunling Zhang, the Director of International Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, in an interview with the VO.  “But beyond that [...] there’s very great potential for China and Canada to cooperate on many areas -- especially now that China  is at a new stage of transformation from an assembly centre to an innovation and service centre.

Zhang said that China needs to move away from a consumption-based model for growth to one that will be sustainable in the long-run. Sam Pitroda, the Advisor to the Prime Minister of India on Public Information Infrastructure and Innovations, also spoke of an alternative model for India and emphasized the need to focus on those living in extreme poverty.

“Our cost structure has to be very, very different,” Pitroda explained. He said that economic development in India requires technology characterized by affordability, scalability, and sustainability -- an area where Canada has the potential to contribute.  

Pitroda encouraged delegates to think big, noting that pilot projects involving small numbers of people traveling back and forth were useless. “Get Canada and India together -- build a whole new city from scratch in India for a million people,” he suggested.

Don Campbell, the Co-Chair of PECC and the Chair of Canada’s PECC Committee, told the VO that, while natural resources will continue to be important, Canadian companies can expand their  business in Asia in relation to environmentally-responsible technologies, food products and related services,  financial services, and education, among other industries.

“Canada should celebrate and acknowledge the importance of a new model,” Murray said, as she criticized the federal government for using all of its political capital to push forward a model focused on fossil fuels. “As long as the public discourse is tied up in whether the government should override the public and push a crude oil pipeline or not, I think we’re really missing the boat, which is that new economy.”

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