Innovate Canada-ASEAN: Accelerating a Partnership for the Future

By Erin Haubrich | Master of Global Business, University of Victoria

On September 9th, 2019, 150 key decision makers from Canada and ASEAN gathered in Bangkok to for Innovate Canada-ASEAN. Organized by the Canadian-ASEAN Business Council (CABC), in partnership with the Thai-Canadian Chamber of Commerce (CanCham Thailand), the mission of the event was to foster new business relationships and build upon existing innovative partnerships to increase economic integration between Canada and ASEAN.

Fostering the Canada & ASEAN Relationship

The Canada-ASEAN Business Council’s (CABC) core mission is to “facilitate increased trade and investment between Canada and the ASEAN region through policy advocacy, networking, and education”. They do this by engaging with governments (in both regions) and representing their members’ interests across the region.

In collaboration with CanCham Thailand, and the other Canadian Chambers of Commerce in ASEAN, more micro-level connections are facilitated for Canadian companies expanding in the region.

CABC hosts sector-specific events across the ASEAN region based on their membership’s needs, and for 2019 the focus was innovation across industries.

The Goal of Innovate Canada-ASEAN

In-line with CABC’s mandate to accelerate the overall Canada-ASEAN trading relationship, Innovate Canada-ASEAN will foster new business relationships and use existing innovative partnerships as the lens through which Canada and ASEAN can understand how key technology and economic trends can catalyze and accelerate new partnerships for a more prosperous future.

The objectives of Innovate Canada-ASEAN were to advance Canada’s strategic trade interests with ASEAN; Educate senior Canadian and ASEAN leaders about opportunities for deeper economic integration between the regions; Deliver quality, senior-level networking opportunities for top-decision makers within the Canada-ASEAN economic corridor; and Support the acceleration of innovative partnerships in ASEAN and provide companies from both sides opportunities to showcase their achievements.

Policymakers from both ASEAN and Thailand will directly benefit from the opportunity to hear our distinguished speakers’ candid insights into the regulatory and policy environment required for maximizing private sector trade and investment.

Why Thailand?

As the Chair of ASEAN in 2019, Thailand has prioritized equipping ASEAN for the fourth industrial revolution, enhancing ASEAN’s connectivity through trade, investment and tourism, and enabling sustainable economic development. This event was also In-line with the 8th ASEAN Economic Ministers (AEM) – Canada consultations, a key moment in the Canada-ASEAN relationship.

The rapid advancement in technology is disrupting all industries; providing great potential for meaningful partnerships of innovative solutions. Breakout sessions were held throughout the day to enable in-depth discussions on industry- and market-specific topics, including Clean Technology; Agriculture; AI; Fintech, Healthcare; and Smart Cities. Each session aimed to make connections that would further synchronize the expertise and needs across the regions.

Optimism for Canada-ASEAN Partnerships

The day began with opening remarks from John Stevens, President of CanCham Thailand; and Wayne Farmer, President of CABC. Following, were morning keynotes from Thailand government officials set the tone for the event—both positive about the relationship between Canada and ASEAN.

H.E. Mr. Vijavat Isarabhakdi, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Thailand said, “Thailand is committed to strengthening sustainability in all dimensions through cooperation and close partnerships with all our friends, particularly Canada.” He also highlighted that increasing two-way trade would have significant benefits for both Canada and ASEAN.

Ms. Ajarin Pattanapanchai, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society Thailand spoke more directly to Thailand’s digital transformation across many industries and the opportunity to leverage Canada’s technological expertise.

Is a Canada-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement on the Horizon?

In the morning plenary session—Canada and ASEAN: A Partnership for Growth—the moderator, H.E. Ambassador Diedrah Kelly, Ambassador of Canada to ASEAN, highlighted Canada’s 42 years of engagement in the region. Kelly also explained that the feasibility study for a Canada-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) was complete and was now in the exploratory discussions phase. In a previous interview with CABC, Kelly noted, “Given the tremendous strengths and expertise of our Canadian exporters and investors, and the strong reputation of the Canada brand, we are seeing great interest from across Southeast Asia.”

This thread of optimism continued throughout the day’s breakout sessions and afternoon plenary session. The day closed with H.E. Ambassador Donica Pottie, Canadian Ambassador to Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos, reflecting on how important creating meaningful people-to-people ties are in strengthening the relationship. Pottie then introduced Mr. John F.G. Hannaford, Deputy Minister of International Trade Canada, who built on Kelly’s earlier remarks on the CAFTA; he is hopeful that the exploratory discussions will be concluded by the end of 2019.

“The success of Canadian companies demonstrates that expanding into Southeast Asia is imperative in order to remain competitive in the localized economy. There’s more work to be done but I’m optimistic about the future of our relations. Canada and ASEAN should be proud of great track record on success built on recent years and look to build on that momentum in the years to come. With CABC and our network of chambers of commerce in the region, like CanCham Thailand, have ample reason to be optimistic.” Deputy Minister of International Trade, Mr. John F.G. Hannaford during keynote closing remarks.

Where do we go from here?

The 2019 Canada-ASEAN Business Survey, launched at Innovate Canada-ASEAN by CABC in partnership with the University of British Columbia, worked to define the opportunities and challenges in the region. Two of the greatest challenges that remain are an “inconsistent implementation of policies and regulations” and the concern of corruption. In spite of these challenges, there remains an even stronger sense that strengthening the ties between Canada and ASEAN will benefit both sides.

Moving forward, to ensure a strong and long-lasting relationship, we need to: solidify both formal and informal ties; and increase awareness of opportunities and best practices. The two-way relationship shows incredible promise and increased collaboration is needed for further economic integration.

Important Thank Yous

Our media partner, Trends Digital, especially Mr. Sunny Patel and his talented team. Our silver sponsors: Scotiabank, Bank of Montreal, Manulife, Sunlife, and Export Development Canada. Our Gold sponsors: The National Bank of Canada and Osler. And finally, a thank you to the Government of Canada, for their support and participation in this event.


– Canada-ASEAN Business Council. (2019). About. Retrieved September 16, 2019, from:
– Canada-ASEAN Business Council. (2019). Innovate Canada-ASEAN. Retrieved September 16, 2019, from:
– Canada-ASEAN Business Council. (2019). Exclusive Interview with Canadian Ambassador to ASEAN H.E. Diedrah Kelly. Retrieved September 16, 2019, from:
– CABC, UBC, IDRC. (2019). 2019 Canada-ASEAN Business Survey. [Printed Survey].