Canada needs to think bigger on its Indo-Pacific strategy

Carlo Dade and Shaun Haney at Grow Canada 2022, Ottawa

The sheer number of people, and the corresponding economy, within the Indo-Pacific region is reason enough for every nation to have a coordinated, focused strategy for trade in the region.

The need for a strategy may be clear, but the shape it takes, and the urgency with which it is prioritized varies by country. Canada, says Carlo Dade, director of the Trade and Investment Centre with the Canada West Foundation (CWF), needs to get going, if only to keep up with the American and Australian Joneses.

“We need to be there. [The U.S.] are also building a new architecture — so not trade agreements — this Indo-Pacific economic framework will not replace the TPP, but it’s the best that the Americans can do,” Dade says. And if our largest trade partner, our “big brother” is moving in this direction, Canada has to act to protect our own interests in the region and to foster the on-going relationship with the U.S.

The federal government is still rolling out full details of what the Indo-Pacific strategy looks like, but has announced funding and a new commitment of “boots on the ground” with the establishment of an office (exact location to be decided). Dade looks to Australia as a measuring stick to assess Canada’s level of commitment to date, and finds us lacking.

In the Indo-Pacific context, Dad explains, Asia is to Australia what the U.S. is to Canada. Australians have to pay more attention to Asia — it’s their biggest market. “It’s worth following their examples on China. They realize the threat of China but they haven’t overreacted or reacted in the ways that we have that have done more harm to Australian interests. They’ve taken the more tempered, realistic view. We’re starting to come to that with the Indo Pacific strategy.” (Story continues below player)

To that end, Canada needs to really step up in terms of people and funding for the region.

“We’re not playing the same game. We also need the presence to look out for non tariff barrier trade issues, changes to rules, domestic politics that restrict imports. We’ve seen this with canola and China, peas in India. So the thinking is having an office on the ground will better enable us to get that sort of intelligence to sell, but also to prevent things that stop us from selling. It’s the first step, (but) it is one-tenth, one-one hundredth of what we need in terms of increasing our presence,” Dade says.

Development of the overarching strategy is being led by government, which Carlo sees as a detriment.

“There’s always the worry that there’s a change in government, or government attention gets diverted to Africa or someplace, and the office just quietly goes away, which is the absolute worst thing for us. The region already is skeptical that we’re serious. They’re even more skeptical that we’re gonna stick around longer than halftime of the game and not being going in and coming back out. We’ll just create a crater out of which we would have to dig for generations.”