Canada to support business growth in Indo-Pacific under new plan -trade minister

FILE PHOTO: Canada's Minister of International Trade Ng speaks on Parliament Hill in Ottawa

By Ismail Shakil

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada will support local businesses seeking to establish a strong presence in the Indo-Pacific through its new strategy for the fast-growing region, Canadian Trade Minister Mary Ng said on Monday.

Canada unveiled its Indo-Pacific strategy on Sunday, outlining spending of C$2.3 billion ($1.7 billion) to boost military and cyber security in the region that is expected to be the fulcrum of the global economy in coming decades.

That includes about C$300 million to be spent over five years in trade-focused schemes like the creation of a Canadian Trade Gateway in Southeast Asia, launch of trade missions to the region and a program to bolster exports.

"We are going to be there to support their efforts at growth and diversification into the Indo-Pacific," Ng told Reuters in an interview. She added that the trade gateway would be the "front door" for economic opportunities.

Business groups said they welcomed the plans. The Business Council of Canada's chief executive, Goldy Hyder, said in a statement it was important that the government converts "aspirations to actions and actions into accomplishments."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberal government wants to diversify trade and economic ties that are overwhelmingly reliant on the United States. Official data for September shows two-way trade with China made up less than 7% of the total, versus 68% for the United States.

"What we're doing here is that we are increasing our presence ... and we are building what is needed for our businesses to get into that region in a much more substantive way," Ng said.

Canada's plans to deepen ties with the fast-growing group of 40 countries, accounting for almost C$50 trillion in economic activity, also comes as Washington has shown signs of becoming increasingly leery of free trade in recent years.

Ng said Canadian businesses have wanted to be in the Indo-Pacific region and the new strategy will provide "practical support" to achieve that growth.

($1 = 1.3482 Canadian dollars)

(Reporting by Ismail Shakil in Ottawa; Editing by Matthew Lewis)