Foreign Minister John Baird
Credits: REUTERS/CHRIS WATTIE
Baird told the Canadian Council of CEOs in a speech in Ottawa Monday that despite the raft of free-trade deals Canada has signed since 2006, "we have yet to complete one with any country in Asia."
"We're fully aware that in order to succeed in the Asia-Pacific, Canada needs to be seen as a bigger player," he said. "And actually step up to the plate."
But the minister maintains that for Canada, gaining a foothold in a region brimming with booming economies is "not a choice, it's not an option, it's a national imperative."
Over the past three years, cabinet ministers and Prime Minister Stephen Harper have been racking up air miles courting Asia-Pacific nations in a bid to deepen ties and influence with countries like China, India, Thailand, Vietnam, South Korea and the Philippines.
Canada is looking to sign a series of free-trade deals with a host of Asian-Pacific countries, and earlier this year was given a seat at the table for talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership -- a potential agreement between the US, Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.
Baird said the federal government was also looking to partner with the U.S. on "some of our outreach to Asia," and that last week both countries began looking at ways to help each other advance their respective strategic interests in the region.
The Canadian Council of Chief Executives is holding a conference on Canada's role in the emerging region, an area of the world currently driving global economic growth. Finance Minister Jim Flaherty will be addressing the conference Tuesday.