Canada and Southeast Asia are divided by the Pacific Ocean, but they are linked by people-to-people, cultural and commercial ties and an array of shared interests that reach across geographical barriers.
Harmony in diversity and inclusivity are as fundamental to the ASEAN Community as they are to Canada. Canada has two official languages and is home to people from more than 200 ethnic origins and speakers of more than 200 other languages. This diversity is spread across Canada and has many connections to Southeast Asia.
For instance, there are 27,000 Indonesian language speakers in Canada, and Tagalog is among the most spoken languages in Calgary, one of Canada’s largest cities, because of its large Filipino diaspora. Canada is proud of its vibrant and diverse culture and works hard to ensure inclusivity within its borders and also in its engagement with all of its partners, including ASEAN.
During the current unprecedented challenges we face as a global community, I’ve witnessed the active response of the longstanding ASEAN-Canada partnership. This has been made possible by the nature of ASEAN’s partnership mechanism, which puts the needs of its people at the forefront.
As an ASEAN partner, Canada has been able to learn from ASEAN’s commendable efforts in mitigating the spread of COVID-19. This case has been particularly showcased by Vietnam, which has done a great job in keeping the number of confirmed cases low and successfully treating those who have fallen ill. Further, Canada is grateful to the Government of Vietnam and the nation’s airlines for helping diplomatic missions assist our citizens wishing to return home by ensuring continued departure flights and other services. Vietnam has shown us its commendable leadership in the international community, as chair of ASEAN and as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.
In June, I had the honor to hand over 90,000 surgical masks to the ASEAN Secretariat as part of the 690,000 masks requested by ASEAN member states from Canada. This was made possible through the ASEAN-Canada Mitigation of Biological Threats Program, which has also delivered more than C$20 million (US$14 million) in programming since 2013 to strengthen ASEAN’s capacities to prevent, detect and respond to infectious disease outbreaks such as COVID-19.
In addition, this collaboration has supported our two regions in tracking the spread of COVID-19 through the use of Toronto-based big data software BlueDot, which combines artificial intelligence, public health, medical expertise and advanced data analytics to track, contextualize and anticipate infectious disease risks to develop national mitigation, preparedness and response measures. This specific partnership is just one of the many that define how Canada and ASEAN are forging ahead.
On the socioeconomic front, under the joint Canada– Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) project for ASEAN small and medium enterprises (SMEs), Canada has been able to learn about how ASEAN creates a competitive, resilient and innovative environment for small and medium enterprises, including by advancing women’s entrepreneurship and more recently – in the context of the pandemic – what ASEAN member states are doing to help SMEs navigate the crisis and how partnerships can facilitate sustainable economic recovery.
With the ASEAN Economic Community creating more jobs for the people of Southeast Asia, ASEAN is also ensuring that migrant workers are protected. Canada has observed these commendable efforts through the Triangle in ASEAN initiative, which is supported by the International Labor Organization. Triangle focuses on promoting and protecting the rights of migrant workers to promote equitable, inclusive and stable growth in ASEAN, with recent publications examining how migrant workers are among the most vulnerable in this pandemic and recommending actions for their protection.
Guided by the ASEAN-Canada Joint Declaration on Trade and Investment, Canada is pleased to be part of ASEAN-led economic integration – all for the growth and prosperity of the region. In fact, with bilateral merchandise trade reaching $27.2 billion in 2019, the ASEAN region is Canada’s sixth-largest trading partner. The stock of known Canadian direct investment in ASEAN countries reached nearly $12.7 billion in 2018 and foreign investment from ASEAN into Canada exceeded $496 million in the same year.
In June of this year, we held the fourth Annual ASEAN-Canada Trade Policy Dialogue to exchange additional views on a possible ASEAN-Canada Free Trade Agreement and move closer to deciding the next steps to deepen our economic relationship.
Further, our Joint Feasibility Study also showed that ASEAN’s GDP would grow by US$39.36 million. We believe that Canada and ASEAN share a common understanding of the value of an open, rules-based trading system and its ability to facilitate economic recovery efforts.
While numbers will always be solid proof of milestones achieved in our partnership, nothing beats the true people-to-people ties in day-to-day examples. Canada is delighted to see more Canadian brands getting more recognition by the people of Southeast Asia, including the establishment of what might be considered a “Canadian institution”, the Tim Hortons coffee chain, in Thailand and the Philippines.
In recent years, I’ve seen firsthand the growing Canada-ASEAN relationship that will help bring prosperity, security and resilience to both our regions. ASEAN is a natural partner to Canada, and Canada will continue to stand by ASEAN’s side. No pandemic will halt our partnership. In fact, the pandemic has underscored the importance of our partnership and highlights how much we can achieve when we work together. Now is the time to use this momentum to step on the gas pedal and not hit the brakes. Let’s move forward to deepen our economic and social relationship.
Happy 53rd birthday, ASEAN!
The writer is ambassador of Canada to ASEAN.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.