More Asia does not mean less North America
YUEN PAO WOO
Special to Globe and Mail Update
April 24, 2008 at 12:43 AM EDT
Asia's renaissance has produced two emerging powers: China and India. Along with Brazil and Mexico, these states challenge Canada's economic and foreign policy.
How can Canada balance its economic and political priorities in a way that supports Canadian interests, values, and assets?
Should Canada deepen its integration in North America, or should it refocus its priorities on other continents, especially on Asia?
To consider the options, globeandmail.com has asked three foreign-policy specialists to give us their thoughts and lead us in a discussion.
CANADA'S WORLD: PART 3
Our economic relationship with the United States is in a state of comfortable discontent. Despite perennial ambivalence about U.S. policies, we have taken solace in our superior access to the world's richest economy.
There is every reason to believe the United States will continue to be our most important market for the foreseeable future. But this complacency has been shaken by the recent American economic malaise. According to a national opinion poll released today by the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, 36 per cent of Canadians believe China holds the most potential for expanded trade and investment, against 26 per cent for the United States. When asked whether Chinese and Indian global influence will equal that of the United States in 10 years, a resounding majority agreed.
Canadians may have noticed the global power shift toward Asia, but it is not yet clear that we are willing to adjust to it. It isn't simply that many Canadians harbour protectionist instincts (71 per cent support measures against imports from low-wage countries). The more fundamental challenge is that most Canadians do not include Asia in their mental maps. When asked "Is Canada part of the Asia Pacific region?", just 33 per cent of respondents agreed. Even in British Columbia, the number was just 57 per cent.
Our hopes about Asia's economic rise are conflicted by fears about product safety, environmental degradation, human-rights abuses and military conflict. Even if Canadians do not include Asia on their mental maps, there is growing awareness that the major transformations taking place there have global repercussions and that Canada is affected willy-nilly.
The question is not whether Canada should refocus its priorities toward Asia, as if the continent were a menu choice in an international smorgasbord. Rather, it's about how Canada should adjust to Asian countries' ineluctable global impact on everyday issues ranging from mortgage rates to air quality.
The most important actions to strengthen Canada's Asian ties are not just the standard list of diplomatic and commercial activities that are performed "over there". They are the painstaking investments in "Asia awareness" that have to be made right here in Canada: teaching about Asia and Asian languages in schools; encouraging our government, business, and university leaders to build long-term relationships with Asian counterparts; and fostering better-informed public discussion about the rise of Asia and relations with Asian countries.
More Asia does not mean less North America. Stronger economic ties with Asia will depend in part on deeper North American economic integration, especially on issues related to the Canada-U.S. border. But it will also depend on policies toward Asia that differentiate Canada from its NAFTA partners. For example, it is not in Canada's interest to jump on a protectionist bandwagon on the pretext of common continental challenges.
Likewise, we should not follow the U.S. lead in discriminating against foreign state-owned enterprises and sovereign wealth funds. And if the United States and Mexico are wary of foreign workers and students, Canada should find ways to show that we are more open.
Canada is uniquely positioned to be the preferred North American partner for transpacific business. Geography has placed Canada's western ports closer to Asia by two sailing days. Demography has endowed our country with a vibrant community of transnational citizens who are as likely to call Vancouver or Toronto home as they are to reside in Shanghai, Mumbai or Seoul. But the collective Canadian psyche has yet to incorporate Asia into its mental map, which is the most important step in embracing an Asia-Pacific future.
Yuen Pao Woo is president and co-CEO of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada.