Canada makes friends in the Indo-Pacific

At an international summit of Asian countries, the Prime Minister of Indonesia got a custom Team Canada basketball jersey, and Canada got a shiny new foreign partnership. 

What happened: Canada and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)—an economic bloc of ten Indo-Pacific countries, including Indonesia and Singapore—signed a Strategic Partnership, a mostly symbolic gesture that recognizes increased cooperation. 

  • This foreign relations equivalent of a friendship bracelet comes after Canada rolled out its Indo-Pacific Strategy last year as it tries to make in-roads in the region.

Why it matters: The friendship comes with (economic) benefits and bodes well for a future free trade agreement (FTA), which both sides want to ratify by 2025. An FTA with ASEAN would be a major win, lifting trade roadblocks to one of the biggest blocs in the Indo-Pacific; Canada’s second-largest export market and the world’s fastest-growing economic region.

  • Currently, Canada is a major food supplier to ASEAN nations but sees other areas for economic opportunity—including assisting the bloc in its green energy transition.

  • Canada would also gain some clout in the region over the likes of the US and EU, who don’t have trade deals in place despite being strategic partners.

Bottom line: Trade activity between Canada and ASEAN already grew 18% in 2021 and 28.8% in 2022. By taking their friendship to the next level, that could grow even more.—QH