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Canada should reconnect with Southeast Asia Add to ...

An Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada paper that was published on Wednesday is right to draw attention to Canada's comparative neglect of Southeast Asia, a region that was always important but has now become economically dynamic as well.

Its author, Brian Job, a political scientist at the University of British Columbia, places some tenuous hope in the fact that Lawrence Cannon, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, acceded last month to the Treaty of Amity and Co-operation with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations - a group of 10 states with almost 9 per cent of the world's population.

In spite of the great popularity in Indonesia of Research in Motion Ltd.'s BlackBerry (sales rose by 400 per cent in 2009), and in spite of the large numbers of immigrants in Canada from the Philippines, Vietnam and other Southeast Asian countries, public policy has done little to enhance these relationships.

The federal government's admirable pursuit of free-trade agreements in other regions of the world has not been matched in Southeast Asia. Canadian direct investment with ASEAN countries has actually fallen in real-dollar terms and, though bilateral trade is increasing, Canada - normally a trade-surplus country - has a large trade deficit with the ASEAN group. Worse, Canada has stayed out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade negotiations, apparently because of an unwillingness to even contemplate complete renunciation of agricultural supply management.

Starting in the postwar period, Canada had quite a strong presence in Southeast Asia because of its foreign-aid programs and Commonwealth connections with Malaysia and Singapore. According to Professor Job, the Canadian relationship with the region began to wither with the federal budget cuts of the 1990s.

Since then, the economic opportunities in Southeast Asia have grown hugely, with much more potential to "get in on the ground floor" than in the new great powers of China and India.

Notwithstanding the motto A mari usque ad mare, many Canadians who live east of the Western Cordillera have not really absorbed the fact that their country is a Pacific nation. That is all the more reason why the federal government should take initiative in restoring and deepening Canada's relationship with Southeast Asia.

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