Ministers at the fourth ASEAN Economic Ministers – Canada Consultations last year. (Photo: VNA)

Ottawa (VNA) – ASEAN and Canada have launched an annual trade policy dialogue, a forum to discuss greater trade liberalisation, increased commercial cooperation, and measures to reduce trade barriers.

The two sides reached the agreement at the fifth ASEAN Economic Ministers – Canada Consultation in Laos last week, during which the two sides also agreed to prepare terms of reference for a feasibility study on the merits of a free trade agreement (FTA) between them.

The study will explore the opportunities and challenges associated with a possible FTA.

According to Minister of International Trade Chrystia Freeland, the establishment of the annual trade policy and a FTA between ASEAN and Canada will elevate the bilateral partnership to new heights by strengthening engagement and expanding the economic relationship.

“Strengthening commercial ties with ASEAN is part of Canada’s plan to create jobs, growth and long-term prosperity for the middle class. ASEAN is composed of some of the fastest-growing and most dynamic markets in the Asia-Pacific region, and we are committed to exploring ways to open these markets for Canadians,” she said.

Freeland announced at the fifth ASEAN Economic Ministers – Canada Consultation in Laos on August 4 that Canada will provide about 13 million CAD or 10 million USD for small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in ASEAN.

The funding will support ASEAN member states in research, training and capacity building to put SME-friendly policies and programmes in place and help identify opportunities to integrate SMEs into global value chains.

ASEAN is currently Canada’s sixth largest trade partner, with two-way trade hitting 16.4 billion USD last year.-VNA