Later today, the prime minister will travel to Singapore for a summit organized by a 10-nation bloc that will put his government's trade diversification plans on display.
ASEAN's members - the Philippines, Indonesia, Brunei, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Burma - have almost 650 million people, a combined economy of US$2.8 trillion, and are already Canada's sixth-biggest trading partner. "The real work, actually, gets started after you have signed the papers and that is building the relationships, building the connections, building the facility and also changing mindsets - getting Canadian companies to see the opportunities we have around the world to partner and invest".
While many Canadian businesses big and small flirt with expansion in Asia, they often retreat from pledges of investment and go back to the trading partner they know best - the United States, said Lorna Wright, executive director of the Centre for Global Enterprise at York University's Schulich School of Business.
We're told that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Donald Trump had a brief discussion at the armistice memorial the other day, and the nagging issue of steel and aluminum tariffs came up. "He is in there to say we want to be part of (this)", said Charest, who's the honorary chairman of the Canada-ASEAN Business Council.
It's not that the Democrats have an axe to grind with Canada or Mexico, but they are indicating that they will obstruct and oppose just about every Trump initiative and that puts the trade deal in peril.
He says the ongoing USA tariffs on foreign exports of steel and aluminum remain a source of concern for both Canadians and Americans alike. Hammering out a final agreement could take up to eight years, Charest said.
Those kinds of commitment issues pose a problem to trade with east Asia, a region where relationships are more valued than a business case or product.
The ASEAN summit also offers Trudeau a seat at a regional security gathering of 18 countries, including the U.S., China and Russian Federation. Trudeau is there for a second year in a row, having been the first Canadian prime minister to attend last year.
A seat at the security table, which the Liberals hope to parlay into a permanent spot, gives Canada a voice in decisions about tensions and issues in southeast Asia that could eventually reach Canadian shores, such as pandemics.