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Canada's lack of Indo-Pacific strategy leaves business in the dark: book

OTTAWA — Business leaders and former diplomats are pushing the Trudeau government to finally release its long-awaited strategy for the Indo-Pacific region.
Goldy Hyder, President and CEO of the Business Council of Canada, is shown during an event in Ottawa, on Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

OTTAWA — Business leaders and former diplomats are pushing the Trudeau government to finally release its long-awaited strategy for the Indo-Pacific region.

"We can't afford to leave it too late, because the world is moving, and it's moving quickly," said Business Council of Canada head Goldy Hyder.

He co-edited a book released Wednesday that urges the Liberals to outline Canada's friends, foes and priorities in a region spanning India to British Columbia.

Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said this spring that a strategy was imminent, but her office still has no timeline for when it will be released.

The book urges Canada to be clear about how it plans to relate with China and to get serious about a military, corporate and cultural presence across the region.

"Canadian firms have made little progress in penetrating new markets while losing market share in traditional ones," reads one essay by Canada's former U.S. ambassador Derek Burney and senior Carleton University professor Fen Hampson.

The pair argue for China to be frozen out of investing in critical infrastructure and digital technology, and for Canada to explain its balance between human rights and trade.

Another part of the book calls out Canada’s “unwillingness to make substantial investments in building political and business relations” and overreliance on the U.S.

Hampson and Hyder along with analyst Tina Park suggest inking long-term deals to export liquefied natural gas to South Korea and Japan. Both are stable countries trying to wean themselves off fuels from the Middle East that arrive via marine zones China is increasingly seeking to control.

Hyder said in an interview that means long-term thinking to be ready for economic opportunities. He used the example of Germany tapping into LNG from Australia and Gulf states because Canada still does not have the capacity to export the fuel.

He said the businesses who make up his council would rather invest in countries Ottawa is trying to grow close to, so they can collaborate and have some certainty in a turbulent world.

"You need to know where your government is putting the emphasis on, so you can make strategic decisions as a business," Hyder said.

Many of the 15 essays in the book titled "The Indo-Pacific: New Strategies for Canadian Engagement with a Critical Region," argue that Canada is falling behind its peers.

For example, Australia has set targets for corporate boards to have knowledge of Asian countries and languages.

In a statement, Joly's office welcomed the book but gave no hint of when she would launch the Indo-Pacific strategy.

"The prosperity and security of Canadians will increasingly be tied to developments in the region," wrote spokesman Adrien Blanchard.

"This strategy will leverage Canadian strengths and expertise to advance our goals, such as trade diversification, inclusive growth, effective action on climate change and enhanced regional security."

He noted that a multi-partisan, independent advisory committee is sharing information on everything from military issues to trade law.

"Reinforcing Canada’s engagement in the Indo-Pacific presents a historical opportunity; we will seize it," Blanchard said.

Yet Conservative foreign-affairs critic Michael Chong noted that the Liberals have promised some form of a regional strategy multiple times in recent years.

"It has gone through so many iterations now that it leaves one’s head spinning," he said, noting that there have been five foreign-affairs ministers in the government's seven years in office.

"It’s reflective of a government that doesn’t have a coherent foreign policy."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 28, 2022.

Dylan Robertson, The Canadian Press