Canadian's Prime Minister Stephen Harper (R) shakes hands with Thailand's Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra during a meeting at Government House in Bangkok March 23, 2012.
Credits: REUTERS/Rungroj Yongrit/Pool
Plenty of pomp surrounded the announcement both countries have agreed to exploratory talks into a free-trade deal.
Harper, who was flanked by Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, called it a "tremendous opportunity" for Canada to become a "destination of choice for Thai business."
Officials celebrated the step forward with champagne. (Harper sipped white grape juice.)
But Canada is still playing economic catch-up in the region.
Harper is on his second sales pitch to Asia in as many months. He was in China in February and this six-day trip includes stops in Thailand, Japan and South Korea.
The Conservatives see the booming Asia Pacific region as a key link in Canada's future prosperity.
But Canada lacks a real foothold in the region.
Bilateral trade with Thailand is growing, but was still a modest $3.5 billion in 2011.
We're also lagging behind competitors like the United States, which just clinched a free-trade deal with South Korea.
Meanwhile, Canada's own trade talks with South Korea, launched in 2005, have stalled.
Japan - the world's third largest economy - and Canada have flirted with entering into trade talks for a few years but have so far only managed to complete a joint study looking into its possible economic benefits.
Harper defended his government's record.
"We've made it our business to get back into the game of trade negotiations," he said, pointing to nine free-trade deals inked since the Tories took office in 2006.
Canada's energy resources could help leapfrog us ahead of the competition by helping service fuel thirsty emerging economies like those in the Asia Pacific.
"Our government believes it's essential that we be able to sell our energy products outside of North America to countries other than the United States," Harper said.
But that ambition rests on getting two pipeline projects - Keystone XL and Northern Gateway - that would carry Alberta crude to overseas markets.
Both projects are tied up in either Canadian or U.S. environmental reviews and their future is uncertain.
Harper reiterated that his government would be "taking the steps necessary" to speed regulatory decisions to ensure projects like those pipelines get built.