In a 2017 speech to the European Parliament, Justin Trudeau spoke of the benefits of free trade, saying: "Trade that is free and fair means we can make the lives of our citizens more affordable, and create more jobs." He is exactly right. And to some extent Trudeau deserves credit for advancing trade since taking office.
Yet when it comes to trade and meaningful engagement with Taiwan, a natural ally of Canada in the Indo-Pacific region, Trudeau and his government have largely ignored this vibrant democracy and economic powerhouse of 23.5 million people.
The Trudeau government's lack of interest in Taiwan is almost certainly attributable to its preoccupation, at least until recently, with strengthening ties to the Chinese Communist regime. The Chinese Communists have returned the olive branch with hostage diplomacy, threatening the safety and well-being of the more than 300,000 Canadians in Hong Kong and imposing punitive trade measures.
In the face of increased Chinese aggression, it is in Canada's strategic interest to strengthen ties in the Indo-Pacific region with allies that share our values. There is no better place to start than Taiwan.
Taiwan is already Canada's 13th largest trading partner, and 5th largest in Asia, with nearly $8 billion in annual trade. We enjoy strong people-to-people links, Taiwan being home of the fourth biggest Canadian diaspora in the world. We share common values, including a commitment to freedom, democracy, human rights, pluralism, and the rule of law.
In January 2017, an arrangement on the avoidance of double taxation came into effect between Canada and Taiwan. This agreement represents the first step towards a trade agreement. Canada should take the next step towards a trade agreement and negotiate a Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA) with Taiwan.
Canada has 38 FIPA's in force, including with countries with limited trade activity such as Senegal ($82.2 million in 2019), Guinea ($62.5 million in 2017), Mali ($23.1 million in 2018), and Kosovo where trade with Canada is almost non-existent. Why wouldn't Canada strive to have a FIPA with our 13th largest trade partner, and one of the most dynamic economies in Asia? To be fair, Canada entered FIPA negotiations with Taiwan, but those negotiations stopped following the arbitrary detentions of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor by Communist China. It's time that these negotiations resume.
Taiwan is eager to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), a trade agreement with 11 Pacific Rim countries. Canada should join Japan in its support for Taiwan's inclusion. Taiwan's advanced economy is already well-integrated in the Indo-Pacific region and would represent the 5th largest economy in the CPTPP. It has strong rule of law and reasonable trade and investment regulations. It ranks 15th in the world in terms of ease of doing business according to 2020 World Bank rankings and 11th in terms of world competitiveness according to 2020 rankings released by the International Institute for Management Development.
Taiwan has products and services that Canada needs, including in strategically important areas such as artificial intelligence and the manufacture of semiconductors, with the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company being one of the world's leaders in high-end chip making. Taiwan could become a key export destination for Canadian energy and presents an opportunity to grow exports of Canadian agricultural products.
Taiwan joining the CPTPP, or Canada pursuing its own trade agreement with Taiwan, would be a win-win for Canada and Taiwan. To the extent that the Trudeau government is worried that enhanced trade would offend Communist China, Canada can take some assurance that Taiwan has trade agreements with Singapore and New Zealand, both of which have strong ties with China.
In addition to trade, Canada should enhance diplomacy, including sending ministers to meet with their Taiwanese counterparts. This is long overdue. The last minister to visit Taiwan was then Industry Minister John Manley more than two decades ago in 1998. By contrast, the President of the Czech Republic's Senate, Milos Vystrcil, led a 90-person delegation to Taiwan last August. The US recently sent a string of high-ranking officials, including Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, and Under Secretary Keith Krach. Last fall former Japanese Prime Minister Mori Yoshiro led two high-level parliamentary delegations to Taiwan, including meeting with President Tsai Ing-Wen.
The Trudeau government likes to think of itself as one of the world's leading "progressive" governments. Strengthening ties with Taiwan fits perfectly with the government's so-called "progressive" image. Taiwan, after all, has legalized same-sex marriage, undertaken significant reconciliation efforts with its Indigenous peoples, and is committed to combatting what this government characterizes as the world's biggest challenge, climate change. Enhanced engagement with Taiwan makes good economic and political sense, and at the same time should make self-styled "progressives" like Trudeau feel good. What is Trudeau waiting for?
Michael Cooper is a Conservative Member of Parliament from Alberta