Remarks at Opening Plenary of the 44th ASEAN Interparliamentary Association (AIPA) Meeting
The Honourable Yuen Pau Woo, Head of the Canadian Delegation
Your Excellency Dr Puan Maharini, Speaker of the House of Representatives of the Republic of Indonesia and President of AIPA 44, Heads of AIPA Delegations, Secretary General of AIPA, Secretary General of ASEAN, distinguished guests, Tuan Tuan dan Puan Puan, Assalamalaikum, good afternoon.
It is my pleasure to offer some brief remarks at this first plenary session of the 44th AIPA meeting on behalf of the Canadian delegation, which is represented Terry Sheehan, Member of Parliament for Sault Ste Marie; Grant McLaughlin, Association Secretary, and myself – Yuen Pau Woo – an independent senator representing British Columbia.
Since our last meeting in Phnom Penh, the pace of Canada-ASEAN cooperation has stepped up. Canada’s Indo-Pacific Strategy released last year recognized the centrality of ASEAN for the region and pledged to build stronger ties in trade, investment, educational and cultural exchanges, and not least, parliamentary diplomacy.
Prime Minister Trudeau was in Bali in November 2022 for the G20 Leaders meeting, and in Bangkok for the APEC Summit. Foreign Minister Melanie Joly took part in ASEAN Post Ministerial Conference last month, at which Canada and ASEAN confirmed the Joint Statement on an ASEAN-Canada Strategic Partnership.
In February this year, the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada organized a major event in Singapore called the Canada in Asia Conference (CIAC), which brought together over 500 Canada-connected leaders in the region to discuss Canada-Asia collaboration. Next year, the Canada in Asia Conference will focus on specific opportunities in agrifood and climate solutions, and I hope there will be strong participation from across Southeast Asia. This conference series is part of Canada’s goal of having a larger and more enduring footprint in the region, including the establishment of an Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada office and the launch of a Canada Trade Gateway in Southeast Asia.
Even before some of these initiatives have taken full flight, economic ties are growing rapidly. ASEAN is now Canada’s fourth largest merchandise trading partner, with two-way trade in 2022 valued at over C$40b, a 27% increase over the previous year. To support the growing demand for travel between Canada and the region, Air Canada launched seasonal direct flights between Vancouver and Bangkok in December 2022 and will begin direct flights to Singapore in April 2024. I hope Jakarta is not far behind.
Canada and ASEAN are negotiating a free trade agreement, with five meetings of the trade negotiations committee completed. Canada is also negotiating a comprehensive economic partnership agreement with Indonesia. I hope we will see progress on both these agreements later this year, along with the formalization of the Canada-ASEAN Strategic Partnership set to take effect on the margins of the 43rd ASEAN Summit in September.
As we look forward to a more robust government-to-government framework for Canada-ASEAN relations, it is important for us as parliamentarians to step up our own engagement with each other on issues of common interest and concern. There are many such issues, including the current focus on taming inflation caused by post-COVID supply chain disruptions, excess liquidity, and the war in Ukraine. Many economies represented here are rethinking their economic development strategies with respect to trade, investment, and supply-chain resilience – much of which is driven by national security and geopolitical considerations. It is important that we do not allow the over-securitization of trade and investment as well as the quest for manufacturing and technological self-sufficiency to harm the economic prospects of our citizens, and to damage the global economy. It is not even clear that nationalistic economic policies driven by security considerations will lead to more security in the region. If there is one thing that is axiomatic about the extraordinary economic performance of the Asia Pacific region in the last 40 years, it is that it was underpinned by the relative absence of cross-border conflict and receptivity to open trade and investment – for the benefit of the entire region. Both Canada and ASEAN were champions of this consensus, and it is important that we not let the gains of previous decades be lost because of domestic or external pressures.
Let me close with another area of parliamentary cooperation that is needed more than ever. It is surely an issue that we can all agree on, and yet it seems that we are unable to collectively make sufficient progress on. This is the issue of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and stopping the warming trend across the world. In recent months, we have seen the hottest temperatures ever recorded in many countries, and the devastating impact that the high temperatures have had on nature, on physical infrastructure, and most tragically, on human life. In my province of British Columbia, Canada, there are at this very moment some 350 fires, including 15 “wildfires of note” that are out of control. Another hundred-plus blazes are burning in Alberta, with similar numbers in the Northwest Territories. Those of you who are familiar with Canadian geography will know that the Northwest Territories border on the Artic and are usually thought of as having frigid weather. Yet, in early July, the temperature in the NWT rose to as much as 38C, which is the highest temperature recorded in the western hemisphere north of 65 degrees latitude. The severity of this year’s fire season in Canada is twice as bad any other season on record.
Meanwhile, in Southeast Asia, the impacts of climate change have also been evident through recent extreme weather events. Thailand saw its hottest day in history at 45.4 degrees Celsius on April 15, while neighboring Laos topped out at 43.5 degrees Celsius for two consecutive days in May, and Vietnam’s record was broken in early May with 44.2 degrees Celsius. Climate attribution scientists believe the April heat wave in Southeast Asia was a once-in-200-years event that would have been “virtually impossible” without human-caused climate change. This year also marks the tenth anniversary of Typhoon Haiyan, which stands as one of the most catastrophic examples of climate-driven natural disasters to have struck the Philippines, or indeed anywhere in the world.
The urgency of addressing climate change and implementing mitigation and adaptation strategies is more urgent than ever. We need to step up global cooperation, and we need to do this despite geopolitical and ideological differences. Parliamentarians have an important role to play and I hope all of us here will look for creative ways to advance our countries’ commitments to reducing GHGs, as well as offer support to each other in advocating for stronger international cooperation. In Canada, we have a non-partisan caucus known as “Senators for Climate Solutions”, which I am a member of, and our group is keen to connect with parliamentarians in ASEAN and around the world who share our urgency for serious and sustained climate action.
To conclude, let me again thank Indonesia for hosting this year’s AIPA and for the excellent arrangements. I wish all of us productive discussions and a successful meeting.