Canada explores free trade with southeast Asian bloc

A woman walks past a steel plant in Monterrey, Mexico on August 27, 2018. Canada wants free trade with the ASEAN bloc, Trade Minister Jim Carr says after a breakthrough in US-Mexico talks on revamping NAFTA (AFP Photo/Julio Cesar AGUILAR)

Ottawa (AFP) – Canada wants free trade with the ASEAN bloc, Trade Minister Jim Carr said Monday on the eve of a trip to Thailand and Singapore for “exploratory” talks.

His comments follow a breakthrough in US-Mexico bilateral talks to revamp the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that saw Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland interrupt a European trip to rejoin trilateral NAFTA negotiations in Washington.

Carr on the August 28-30 trip will look to promote bilateral trade and investment with Thailand and Singapore — which, along with Canada, is expected to soon ratify the Trans Pacific Partnership — and press for free trade with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

“Expanding into the Southeast Asia region will help Canadian-owned businesses access one the world’s fastest-growing markets,” he said in a statement.

Canada and the EU provisionally entered into a free trade pact last September, as NAFTA appeared to falter and the US exited from the Trans Pacific Partnership.

A deal with the ASEAN bloc, which includes Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Philippines, Brunei, Vietnam, Laos, Burma and Cambodia, would give Canada access to 650 million consumers.

Ottawa is also eying free trade with Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, which form the Mercosur bloc, and has suggested a trade deal with China is also in the works, which if successful would make Canada the first Western nation to do reach a free trade deal with Beijing.

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