I’m here in Hanoi, Vietnam – again. This is my second trip in the last two months. It’s interesting, the last time I was here at the beginning of September; the former Ambassador to Canada and now a noted advisor to the Central Government scolded us by saying “Canada is asleep on Asia Pacific”. I think he’s right!
Our trip this month was to sign a cooperation agreement between the Vietnamese Chamber of Commerce and Investment, which, as many who do international business know, is the government’s external link to other countries seeking business opportunity.
Our signing ceremony was historic, it is the first such agreement between private sector enterprise in Canada and the government of Vietnam. There were noted dignitaries from Vietnam at the event, including the current Vietnamese Ambassador to Canada, who spoke glowingly about Canada and the opportunity that exists between the two countries. There was decent media coverage too, but the meeting was cut short. Why? Because the US government, with a large business contingent, was in the same building as we were to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the trade cooperation agreement between the two countries.
As I reflected on that, I wondered why our Canadian Embassy wasn’t at our event. Why no one from the Canadian government showed up. It’s not as if either wasn’t given ample notice. In fact, on our last visit, we specifically met Embassy commercial counsel to brief up on the event to happen in the ensuing months.
This leads me to my point – Is Canada asleep when it comes to Asia Pacific?
I’d say it has one eye closed. The sum total of Canada’s interest in Asia Pacific lays, in my opinion, with China. Why? Because I believe we think we have a better opportunity there because of the strained relations China shares with the USA.
If the former Ambassador is right about Canada being asleep, and I believe he is, then the opportunity for Canada is the fact that Vietnam is the gateway to ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) – some 680 million people strong. Countries like Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Indonesia, etc. all of whom need healthcare innovation, quality education, high technology industry and good manufacturing processes and natural resources like oil, gas and minerals.
Canada has traditional north-south dialogue (witness recent free trade agreements with Chile and Colombia).
But what about a dialogue with ASEAN countries?
The Keystone XL fiasco from Obama’s chicken-hearted approach to dealing with environmental lobby groups in Washington is a case in point. Let’s take advantage of his misstep by helping develop ASEAN by putting an elbow bend in the Oil Sands pipeline and having a terminal on the west coast of Canada to deliver our oil to energy developing ASEAN countries.
With this beach-head, we can lay to waste the notion that Canada is asleep and we can use large-scale exports as a means to deliver on other expertise in healthcare, education, hi-tech and other natural resources.
And maybe, just maybe, the Canadian embassies and their commercial counsels in ASEAN countries might wake up and help Canadian business flourish there.