Workshop on Canada-Laos Trade Policy Talks Indo-Pacific Strategy

Participants at the workshop on Canada-Laos Trade Policy. (Photo supplied)

On October 12, Canadian Chargé d’Affaires Bob Paquin and Director General of the Department of Foreign Trade Policy, Ministry of Industry and Commerce, Saysana Sayakone, co-chaired a workshop on Canada-Laos Trade Policy.

The workshop featured presentations by Ottawa-based senior Canadian officials on Canada’s Indo-Pacific Strategy, and an update from both Canada and Laos on the Canada-ASEAN FTA, which is currently being negotiated.

The workshop was moderated by Canadian Chamber of Commerce CEO Kevyn McGraw, and was attended by ministry and private sector representatives. It resulted in a vibrant discussion on Canada and Laos’ trade relationship and much greater understanding on the upcoming benefits of successfully concluded Canada-ASEAN FTA.

Chargé d’Affaires Paquin described the workshop as a “very useful and informative bilateral information sharing session on trade policy, especially with regard to the huge potential to improve trade and investment between Canada and ASEAN, and especially here in Laos.”

The workshop began with a presentation on Canada’s Indo-Pacific Strategy from Canadian Strategy Secretariat Head Christian DesRoches, who attended virtually. DesRoches explained that Canada’s Indo-Pacific Strategy, which was launched in November 2022, presents a comprehensive and integrated set of strategic priorities for the coming decade, spanning defense and security, trade and economic cooperation, people-to-people ties, international assistance, and environment and climate change.

Underpinning this Strategy is the recognition that Canada must expand its presence and strengthen its partnerships in the region. The Strategy has had immediate local impacts for Canada’s mission in Laos, which will be increasing in size with an additional Canadian diplomat arriving in Vientiane this October. Chargé d’Affaires Paquin also underscored that the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service is active across the ASEAN region, including in Laos. The Trade Commissioner Service helps companies navigate the complexities of international markets and make informed business decisions.

This year also saw the creation of a Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Laos. CanCham will work with partners, government agencies and the business community to promote responsible business practices and support sustainable economic growth and shared value for local and Canadian businesses.

Expanding Canada’s regional engagement is a key element of the Indo-Pacific Strategy and is rooted in a commitment to strengthening and diversifying Canada’s regional partnerships, including ASEAN. Canada and ASEAN benefit from decades of trust and engagement in development, security, and trade partnerships, as well as shared histories and cultures.

However, Chargé d’Affaires Paquin also reflected that, despite the Indo-Pacific Strategy and its focus on ASEAN, Canada-Laos bilateral trade was only USD 43 million in 2022, down from a high of USD 50 million in 2019, dropping mostly due to the Covid pandemic. Moreover, with Laos graduating from Least Developed Country status in 2026, Laos will lose some of its comparative advantages as a Canadian trading partner.

To help address trade barriers with Laos, and other ASEAN countries, and offset the impacts of the Covid pandemic and Laos’ graduation among other regional obstacles, Canada and ASEAN launched free trade negotiations in November 2021. The fifth round of negotiations recently concluded.

Paquin explained that success in establishing a mutually beneficial FTA “will bring many benefits to both parties,” such as reducing trade barriers. Laos-Canada trade is expected to increase by at least USD 5 million when the FTA is in place. Attending virtually, Canada’s Deputy Chief Negotiator, Alisha Somerville, reported on the status of negotiations, and described some of the capacity building Canada is planning to provide to the Lao negotiators.

Director General Saysana Sayakone also shared his thoughts on the benefits of an FTA, as well as progress on FTA negotiations. He commented that the Canada-ASEAN FTA would be beneficial for Laos, especially after the country graduates from Least Developed Country Status in 2026. Sayakone also noted that he and his team look forward to participating in FTA negotiations in Canada. Director General Sayakone reflected that the workshop was a useful learning opportunity for ministry staff and expressed his hope that more such workshops will be hosted by Canada in the future.