Canada continues to pursue a multilateral free trade agreement with Southeast Asian nations, and those involved with negotiations say bilateral deals in the region could lead to larger pacts.
The pursuit of a free trade deal with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), began three years ago but has so far harvested no results.
Since, Canada has explored the possibility of entering into bilateral pacts with some of the ASEAN member states – including the launch of consultations for a deal with Indonesia.
Kendal Hembroff, director general of trade policy and negotiations for Foreign Affairs, said a broad agreement is better than a narrower one.
But it “sometimes makes sense to do what you’re able to do at a given point in time.”
Those comments came during a March meeting of the International Trade committee.
In 2017, exploratory talks for a possible Canada-ASEAN trade deal started.
Face-to-face meetings between Canada and ASEAN members continued over the next few years and in 2018, Ottawa did a public consultation on a potential pact.
Twenty of the 49 submissions in that consultation were from agricultural stakeholders.
According to the government, stakeholders overall expressed support for a free trade deal and highlighted:
“existing barriers for Canadian firms, including high tariffs, sanitary and phytosanitary issues and non-tariff barriers” could be addressed.
Hembroff told committee members Canada continues to pursue a Canada-ASEAN free trade agreement.
“The pandemic has certainly reinforced the importance of an agreement with all of ASEAN, especially as an opportunity to be able to tap into regional supply chains.
That does not preclude us from pursuing the possibility of bilateral agreements with ASEAN member states.
And Canada recently conducted public consultations to seek the views of Canadians on a possible trade agreement with Indonesia,” she said.