BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – ASEAN has begun free trade talks with Canada, which could lead to an agreement that would add US$39.4 billion to the ASEAN economy.

After a virtual meeting co-chaired by Brunei and Canada on Wednesday, ministers issued a joint statement highlighting the potential for a free trade agreement to help diversify supply chains, increase trade and investment, and reinforce Canada and ASEAN’s shared commitment to open markets and rules-based trade.

The ministers also tasked officials with developing a work plan to take forward the negotiations as soon as possible.

It would be the first ASEAN FTA with North America, giving Southeast Asian nations access to a market of 38 million people.

The pact is also forecast to add US$5.1 billion to Canada’s GDP, according to a statement from Brunei’s Ministry of Finance and Economy.

Recent figures show that two-way merchandise trade was valued at US$19.9 billion in 2020, reflecting a slight decrease of 2.4 per cent year-on-year.

At the end of 2020, the stock of foreign direct investment from Canada to ASEAN member states reached US$12.5 billion, an increase of 11.7 per cent year-on-year.

Canada already has preferred access to four of ASEAN’s 10 countries — Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam — through the 11-country Pacific Rim trade group known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).

Launching negotiations between ASEAN and Canada was one of the key economic deliverables of Brunei’s ASEAN chairmanship in 2021.

The meeting was co-chaired by Brunei’s Second Minister of Finance and Economy, YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Amin Liew Abdullah, and Canada’s Minister of International Trade, Mary Ng.