Asia: A Priority For Canada’s Aggressive Trade and Investment Agreements

By Michael Darch

There were some clear lessons to be learned from this trip to Asia:

  1. Canada is not the only country pursuing opportunities in Asia, the field is crowded;
  2. Increasing emphasis is being placed on innovation for growth in cities, and
  3. Energy and food security are our trump cards.
CCCA delegation and Mackenzie Clugston, Canadian Ambassador in Japan

CCCA delegation and Mackenzie Clugston, Canadian Ambassador in Japan

It was very obvious in all our stops and seminars that Asia represents the dominant growth market in the world economy for the coming years. I have often remarked on the intense competition between North America and Europe countries in the region. What was bluntly evident during this trip was that the competition was even greater from the developed economies in Asia. Mention was made at every stop in Japan of competition from South Korea and about various measures to meet that competitive pressure. Emphasis was placed on the aggressive agenda for Japan to increase its bilateral trade agreements around the world. Japan has historically had a very inward looking economy with a reputation for relationships taking years to develop. Relationships are still critical, but companies were looking for foreign collaboration and partnership to improve global supply chains.

The recently released Global Market Access Plan (GMAP) does place a priority on Canada creating multi and bi lateral trade and investment agreements. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with the European Union are addressing those markets. But Canada must also ensure that bilateral agreements being negotiated with South Korea and Japan are brought to a quick conclusion as is the multilateral Trans Pacific Partnership. We also have to improve our sales job at home. Work by the Asia Pacific Foundation has shown that many Canadians remain unconvinced of the importance of our Asia Pacific relationships.

Seminars and meetings with companies were targeted at innovation sectors: Information and Communications Technologies (ICT), Life Sciences (including Healthcare), Clean Technologies and Advanced Manufacturing. The meetings and discussions showed clearly that the four cities visited had active programs in many of these sectors. For example, Osaka was placing an emphasis on Clean Technologies and Life Sciences to guide its future. In Taipei, the emphasis was on Software and Life Sciences. In all cities, there was discussion of innovation driving smart or intelligent growth.

Again, Canada’s GMAP has identified all these sectors as priorities as well as both Japan and Taiwan as priority geographic markets. For the members of the Consider Canada City Alliance, it is evident that focus is critical. We must be smart and intelligent but more importantly realistic. The individual resources of our members must be concentrated on those sectors in which each has the resources and infrastructure to compete at a global level.

My experience has been in the ICT and Defence and Aerospace sectors. My role in the CCCA is giving me an ever growing knowledge and respect for Canada’s oil and gas, mining and food sectors. On this trip, I am seeing the role that our members in Winnipeg and Saskatoon play in global food production. I am frankly amazed at some of the speciality agricultural products being developed in Canada and financed by foreign buyers. I learn that foreign speciality beers and spirits are being driven by Canadian agricultural biotechnology. The same is true of wide range of food products being developed to respond to an increasingly discriminating consumer.

Few countries in the world have food or energy self-sufficiency, never mind both. Not only does Canada have self-sufficiency, it is a strong exporter of food and energy. As Canada moves to increase its trade and investment with Asia, food and energy are the door opener and innovation is the value-add to build our economic future. The members of CCCA together have the strength for Canada to take advantage of the expanding Asian opportunity.   

Michael Darch is the Founding President of Consider Canada City Alliance.