Skip to content

Canada's promised Indo-Pacific trade representative to be based in Jakarta: Mary Ng

JAKARTA — Canada will open an export development office in Jakarta and has named an Indo-Pacific trade representative to help Canadian businesses enter new markets in the region, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Tuesday while in Indonesia.

JAKARTA — Canada will open an export development office in Jakarta and has named an Indo-Pacific trade representative to help Canadian businesses enter new markets in the region, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Tuesday while in Indonesia.

"It's really important for Canadian companies and exporters to grow in this region because when they do, that means good jobs back at home," Trade Minister Mary Ng told reporters in Jakarta.

That is where the new trade representative, Paul Thoppil, will be based, Ng said.

Trudeau arrived in Indonesia earlier Tuesday with a commitment to keep growing his relationship with the southeast Asian country. 

One of his first events was an official visit with President Joko Widodo at his palace.

The two leaders spent their meeting discussing their growing ties, which Canada views as necessary in order to increase its diplomatic and trade presence in the Indo-Pacific region. A trade representative was promised in the Indo-Pacific strategy the Liberal government released last November.

Trudeau, whose eldest son, Xavier, 15, joined him on the trip, announced there will be five coming trade missions to the Indo-Pacific including Indonesia, Philippines and Vietnam. 

He also put money on the table: $10 million over five years to help prevent future biological threats like another pandemic, and $13 million toward sexual and reproductive health projects in Indonesia. 

Canada is also loaning Indonesia over $100 million to build green infrastructure for clean water and solar power. The country is among the world's top sources of biodiversity as well as carbon emissions.

"The warm welcome and constructive conversations we are having here in Indonesia are a testament to Canada's strong friendships and growing relationship with the Indo-Pacific region," Trudeau said in a statement on Tuesday.

"Together, we're creating good jobs, protecting peace and security, and forging a better future for people on both sides of the Pacific."

But the relationship with Indonesia wasn't always warm, as countries in the region often viewed Canada's presence too episodic.

"Among the larger Asian countries, Indonesia has been the most consistent recipient of Canadian neglect," Leonard Edwards, a former high-ranking diplomat for Canada in Asia, wrote in an essay included in a book published last fall.

He noted that Canada was renowned in Indonesia for its support for independence from the Netherlands, as well as its work to avoid maritime conflict with China. Many states in the region have similar memories of Canada's work in development decades ago.

Ian McKay, Canada's special envoy for the Indo-Pacific, said Ottawa is trying to regain its stature.

"Canada is investing extraordinary resources, people, time, money to build our presence in the region," he said Tuesday in Jakarta.

"That is exactly what leaders like President Widodo want, and that is represented by the warm relationship he's developed with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau," said McKay, who is also Canada's ambassador to Japan.

The leaders' relationship was highlighted during Trudeau's official visit to the Merdeka Palace. 

He gifted Widodo with a Team Canada basketball jersey with his nickname, Jokowi, on it, and the number seven, which signifies Widodo being the seventh president of Indonesia. 

Days earlier, Team Canada played in Jakarta, where the men's basketball team advanced to the Olympics after beating Spain. 

Trudeau thanked Widodo for the warmth the team received, saying it's a wonderful example of the two countries' deepened relationship.

"It's a normal thing to do to search out better and bigger markets," McKay said, noting the Indo-Pacific strategy is Canada's biggest foreign policy shift in decades. 

Indonesia is Southeast Asia's largest economy and a G20 member with significant potential for economic growth. A study by PricewaterhouseCoopers compiled just before the COVID-19 pandemic predicted Indonesia would be the world's fourth-largest economy by 2050, after China, India and the U.S.

In 2022, Indonesia was Canada's 19th-largest trading partner worldwide and third-largest among southeast Asian countries, with two-way merchandise trade totalling $6.24 billion.

Canada had previously pledged a closer relationship with Indonesia, with the two countries announcing an action plan in 2014 that was all but scrapped after the arrest of Canadian teacher Neil Bantleman, who maintained he was wrongfully accused and convicted. He was jailed for five years in a case Ottawa said was marked with "grave irregularities" before returning to Canada after Indonesia granted him clemency in 2019.

Edwards has argued that in addition to trade, Canada could build closer ties with Indonesia by collaborating on shared challenges of resource extraction, coastal protection, infrastructure in remote regions.

In appointing the regional trade minister to Jakarta, Ottawa is demonstrating an increased interest in Indonesia. As assistant deputy minister for the Indo-Pacific, Thoppil has had a key role in crafting Canada's plan for the region, and was often Ottawa's representative on panels about regional issues.

On Wednesday, Trudeau will deliver remarks tothe Association of Southeast Asian Nations, as the 10-nation bloc prepares to make Canada its latest strategic partner, symbolizing the trade progress Canada has made with ASEAN. 

Merchandise trade with the countries in the bloc grew by nearly 29 per cent last year, with agribusiness being one of the largest economic sectors.

Trudeau is also expected to hold talks at the summit with Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar bin Ibrahim, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., South Korea's President Yoon Suk Yeol, Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 5, 2023. 

— With files from Dylan Robertson in Ottawa.

Mickey Djuric, The Canadian Press