Understanding the Asia factor across Canada

Guest Commentary
By Eva Busza
The impact of Asia is extending to unexpected corners of Canada. Did you know that Asia now absorbs close to 45 per cent of British Columbia’s merchandise exports and more than 13 per cent of Nova Scotia’s? Asia is a major buyer of goods from across Canada.
For instance, in 2013, Asian countries bought 82 per cent of Saskatchewan peas, 87 per cent of Newfoundland’s iron and ores, and 99.7 per cent of Nunavut tanned furskins.
Immigration from Asia is redefining the demographic landscape across Canada. Canadians from Victoria to Halifax now realize the impact of Asia in their hometowns, whether it is from increased tourism, trade, immigration or international students. Asians represent 13 per cent of Canada’s population, and they are the fastest growing minority group in Canada. While the number of Canadians of Asian descent remains low in the Atlantic region and in Quebec, it now exceeds the national average and reaches impressive numbers in Ontario (17.4 per cent) and British Columbia (23.8 per cent).
Asia is now the main source of international students throughout the country. Did you know that in 2010, 76.9 per cent of international students in Prince Edward Island came from China alone? Provinces have taken note of Asia’s increasing importance and are taking steps to strengthen ties with the region.
On her recent trip to Asia, British Columbia’s Premier Christy Clark met with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak to promote B.C. as a liquefied natural gas export hub.
Alberta now has three new trade offices in Asia that provide on-the-ground resources and help connect Albertan and Asian businesses.
Saskatchewan recently created an Asia Advisory Council to help the province develop its own strategy for engaging with the region. And Robert Ghiz, Prince Edward Island’s Premier, led a trade mission to Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan in February in an effort to build business relationships and educational partnerships.
Despite all of this activity, Canadians remain divided over how to move forward with our relationship with Asia. An annual poll conducted by the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada has found that Canadian support for increasing engagement with Asia has been in decline since 2012. At the same time, the reality of Asian countries playing an increasingly significant role in international politics and the global economy is becoming more apparent than ever before. As this trend continues, Canadians need accurate, reliable and easily accessible information on how Asia matters to their daily lives.
To help respond to this need, the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada’s new project, The Asia Factor, serves as an interactive tool for Canadians to explore Asia’s impact in each of Canada’s provinces and territories. The site allows users to visualize and compare data about Canada’s interactions with Asia through trade, immigration, tourism, twinning relationships and more.
With the rise of Asian countries, Canada is witnessing a global shift in power that is unprecedented in our national history. As the complex economic and political dynamics of the region continue to evolve, Canadians’ best tool to help them navigate these changes will be knowledge. It is our hope that TheAsiaFactor.ca will be a useful tool for Canadian businesses, policy-makers and individuals as they continue to develop their diverse and unique relationships across the Pacific.
Eva Busza is the Asia Pacific Foundation Canada Vice-President.
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