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Australia's former minister for foreign affairs, Julie Bishop, arrives for a party meeting in Canberra on Aug. 24, 2018. Bishop says Australia and Canada should consider a trade deal.DAVID GRAY/AFP/Getty Images

Former Australian foreign affairs minister Julie Bishop says Australia and Canada should consider a trade agreement to deepen economic ties.

Australia and Canada have economies that mirror each other in so many ways,” Ms. Bishop said in an interview, citing both countries’ resource industries, including mining and energy.

Ms. Bishop is co-chair of the Australia-Canada Economic Leadership Forum event taking place in Toronto next week. The forum seeks to identify areas where Australia and Canada can work more closely on matters such as trade and investment, global security, foreign policy, economic growth and education. It brings together more than 150 leaders from government and the public and private sectors.

Australia and Canada are already members of the 12-country Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), a trade pact that took effect in 2018, giving nations preferential access to each other’s markets.

Ms. Bishop, however, noted that trade deals between two countries can often make more progress in reducing barriers than a deal among larger groups of nations, where a consensus must be reached. For example, while the United Kingdom recently joined the CPTPP, it is also negotiating a free-trade deal with Canada to replace a temporary agreement put in place after it left the European Union.

“Whether it’s a free-trade agreement or whether it’s a specific investment agreement, I think that nations having such significant mining and resource and energy industries would be interested in a greater facilitation of two-way flows of investment,” she said.

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This year’s forum includes a panel on Australian and Canadian approaches to the Indo-Pacific region. The term Indo-Pacific reflects how many Western countries have reframed their engagement with the Asia Pacific region to build common cause between India and neighbours that have burgeoning middle-class populations and a shared interest in addressing China’s growing influence in the region.

Australia and Canada have so much in common an article in The Economist last month imagined they could easily comprise a single country called “Ozanada” and listed the similarities: vast land masses populated by comparatively few people, Commonwealth membership and homes to commodity business giants. “Both export their rich natural resources around the planet. And both are magnets for immigration,” The Economist noted.

“Their worlds of business, too, are near-identical. Macquarie, an Australian financial group, is the world’s largest infrastructure-investment manager. Brookfield, a Canadian peer, is the runner-up,” the Economist said.

In fact, Toronto-based Brookfield Asset Management Ltd. increased its presence in Australia this year, purchasing Australian power generator Origin Energy Ltd. And Kmart Australia, owned by Perth-based Wesfarmers, has introduced its Anko brand of products to Canada this year through a partnership with Hudson’s Bay.

Ms. Bishop, who served as Australia’s foreign affairs minister between 2013 and 2018, is co-chairing the Toronto forum event with John Baird, Canada’s foreign affairs minister between 2011 and 2015.

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Thomas d’Aquino, a veteran business leader who has played a significant role in past AusCan Forum meetings, said he would also support free-trade negotiations between Canada and Australia. “No two countries in the world are more alike and more aligned,” he said.

The Toronto event comes a number of months after The Globe reported that the Canadian government is seeking to join the non-nuclear component of AUKUS, a security pact between Australia, Britain and the United States that was struck to counter China’s rising military might in the Indo-Pacific region. This non-nuclear part of AUKUS provides for information-sharing and close co-operation on accelerating development of cutting-edge technologies, including undersea defence capabilities, artificial intelligence, quantum technology and hypersonic warfare.

Mr. Baird said he’d support joining AUKUS and further trade agreements with Australia. “I’m all in favour of anything we can do to deepen the relationship,” he said. So much of Canada’s and Australia’s relationship these days is collaborating on international challenges, he notes.

Goldy Hyder, CEO of the Business Council of Canada and a panel speaker at this year’s AusCan event, said Canada can learn a lot from Australia, “including how they addressed internal trade barriers among states, foreign-credentials recognition to manage skills shortages, permitting approvals for major infrastructure and resource projects and a serious commitment to invest in defence and security.”

Trade between Australia and Canada continues to grow. Canada’s merchandise exports to Australia have increased more than 52 per cent since 2018, to $3.13-billion in 2022 from $2.05-billion, according to data supplied by the Department of Global Affairs. Imports to Canada from Australia have grown more than 26 per cent in the same period, to $2.66-billion in 2022 from $2.1-billion in 2018.

The stock of direct investment in Australia from Canada has grown more than 43 per cent to $57.9-billion in 2022 from $40.3-billion in 2018. Australian direct investment in Canada has more than doubled to $24.9-billion in 2022 from $11.8-billion in 2018.

Trade in services, however, has fallen over the last five years. Total bilateral services trade has dropped more than 18 per cent to $2.6-billion in 2022 from $3.2-billion in 2018.

The Toronto AusCan event marks a resumption of regular forum meetings since the pandemic began. The AusCan Forum last convened in February, 2020, in Melbourne.

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