Apr 28, 2022

Canadian Chamber encourages House International Trade Committee to set clear priorities for its Indo-Pacific strategy

On April 27, Mark Agnew, Canadian Chamber of Commerce Senior Vice President, Policy and Government Relations, appeared at the House of Commons Standing Committee on International Trade regarding its study into opportunities for Canada in the Indo-Pacific region.

Agnew suggested four important, though not all encompassing, areas of focus to guide the strategy: trade policy opportunities, to be clear-eyed regarding the challenges surrounding China, to be judicious in targeting specific markets and sectors, and supporting the role of business in bolstering trade relationships.

Mark Agnew’s opening remarks
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Chair and Honourable Members, thank you for the invitation to appear as part of your study into opportunities in the Indo-Pacific region. This is a timely study as the government continues work on its Indo-Pacific Strategy.

I would like to focus my few minutes on several non-exhaustive priorities that the government should consider as it develops its Indo-Pacific Strategy.

The first area is trade policy. We have a number of initiatives ongoing in the region that hold potential for opening new market access opportunities. This includes recently announced initiatives, such as trade negotiations with ASEAN and Indonesia, but also the potential for CPTPP expansion and opening opportunities in underutilized markets like Taiwan.

It is important to go into these discussions with a clear set of priorities. Some of these priorities for the Canadian Chamber include:

  • Tariff liberalization for our key export interests;
  • Robust digital trade chapters that ensure the protection of cross-border data flows and that data localization does not become a condition of doing business; and
  • Enhanced regulatory dialogues to ensure that non-tariff measures, such as SPS regulations, do not become a barrier to trade

In the context of the CPTPP specifically, we urge the government to maintain the high standards of the agreement and not water down its provisions.

The second area is the approach to China. Although the government has committed to delivering an Indo-Pacific Strategy, the elements that pertain to China will be critical. It is important to be clear-eyed about the size of the market and of course the geopolitical challenges. How we engage with China needs to intelligently balanced considerations and it must be anchored around cooperation with allies.

The third key consideration is focus. The reality is that we live in a world of finite resources, financially and in terms of bandwidth to deliver. It would not be realistic to expect that Canada could make a push in all sectors in all countries. We will need to be judicious in how we select markets of focus and the priority sectors that are pursued.

The fourth and final area I want to mention is around the role of non-governmental entities in bolstering trading relationships through the development of on-the-ground connections. Businesses engage in commerce rather than governments, and in doing so they play a part in our footprint in the region. Governments should see trade missions and other activities that facilitate those connections as part of the broader set of foreign policy tools. I know that when I travel abroad, I represent not only the Canadian Chamber but also what foreign nationals perceive about Canada. Therefore, strong government-industry collaboration is critical and mutually reinforcing.

Thank you for your attention and look forward to your questions.

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