Western Canada is eyeing the new Indo-Pacific strategy for energy export hopes

As the Trudeau government fleshes out its Indo-Pacific strategy, Western Canada is seeking more certainty from the Liberals on expanding energy exports to Asia.

“There are people in Ottawa who understand what our energy mix is, and what it has to be in the future,” Alberta Trade Minister Rajan Sawhney in an interview this week.

“And there are others who are pushing back.”

Last November, Foreign Minister Melanie Joly unveiled the government’s approach to the Indo-Pacific, which calls for deeper economic and cultural links with countries that can counterbalance China’s growing influence.

Sawhney said the strategy was seen as a positive first step in Western Canada, but that it needs to respond to more of her region’s trade issues. The Alberta minister is planning a summit so provinces can touch base and make a concerted pitch to Ottawa to refine parts of the strategy.

In a recent virtual event held by the Canada West Foundation, experts from the Prairie provinces noted that their region has a disproportionate amount of trade with commodity-hungry China.

Stephen Nagy, a Canadian who works as a politics professor at the International Christian University in Tokyo, said Western Canada’s ties with China mean the region is at the whims of Ottawa’s relations with Beijing.

Nonetheless, he told the panel the trade relationship is “a net good” for Canada.

“During the pandemic _ during the highest point of tension between China and Canada _ trade between Western Canada and China increased,” he said.

Nagy said the federal strategy does a good job of listing ways Canada can continue to build on its economic ties with China, by limiting business involving technology and sensitive industries but broadening agriculture and resource exports.

He argued that Liberal ministers have been less clear, with some calling for closer trade ties and others advocating an overall pull away from China. He said he worries the mixed messaging will only get worse amid allegations of election interference.

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