Now is the time for ambition in Canada-Philippines relations

By H.E. David Hartman

(The author is the Ambassador of Canada to the Philippines)

Earlier this month, on 1 July, Canadians gathered from coast to coast to coast to celebrate Canada Day. Here in the Philippines, over the past two weeks, I have had occasion to gather with our Filipino friends and partners to celebrate our national day, and to reflect on the state of the Canada-Philippines bilateral relationship.

In May, during her first visit to the Philippines, Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Hon. Mélanie Joly, declared that now, more than ever, is the time for ambition in our bilateral relationship. I could not agree more.

In November last year, Canada launched its Indo-Pacific Strategy – a ten-year commitment to enhanced engagement and presence in this vital and dynamic region, backed by an initial allocation of more than C$2.3 billion in new resources.

The Philippines, sitting at the heart of the Indo-Pacific, is central to Canada’s strategy. Our countries share many interests and objectives: maintaining a rules-based international order; upholding and protecting democracy; free trade and inclusive economic growth; combatting climate change and protecting biodiversity; safeguarding fundamental human rights; improving food and energy security; and building a more sustainable future.

The deep people-to-people ties that bind our societies together reinforce these shared priorities. The Philippines is the third source of new migrants and the second source of international students to Canada. Today, there are more than 1 million persons of Filipino origin in Canada, and that number continues to grow. The Canadian-Filipino community is a vibrant component of our multicultural society, contributing tremendous creativity, culture and energy to the Canadian story.

The importance Canada ascribes to this historic, 74-year old relationship is reflected in the pace and level of engagement between our governments.

Since August of last year, four Canadian cabinet ministers have visited the Philippines, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has met President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. twice, on the margins of the ASEAN and APEC Summits. In addition, numerous leaders from our provinces and cities have likewise visited, seeking to enhance cooperation at the subnational level.

The pace of engagement shows no sign of slowing, as leaders on both sides of the Pacific look to seize upon the potential in our bilateral relationship.

Unlocking that potential is my core mandate. My government’s decision last month to add the Philippines to our Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) program will help strengthen these important ties by removing barriers to travel, exchange and business for countless Filipinos.

This same desire motivated Canada’s most recent decision to select Manila as the host for our new Indo-Pacific Agriculture and Agri-Food Office. Staffed by experts from Agriculture Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, this office will work with our partners in the Philippines and across the region to strengthen partnerships, expand technical cooperation, increase trade, and improve food security.

More is on the horizon.

In the coming months, we will be expanding our embassy team to seize upon the opportunities emerging in the bilateral relationship. Indeed, our embassy in Manila is now Canada’s fourth largest diplomatic mission in the world, and continuing to grow – a clear testament to the importance my country attributes to its partnership with the Philippines. This will include the arrival of new staff to manage our expanding bilateral cooperation, a growing aid envelope, to speed up visa processing, as well as a resident defence attaché to manage our rapidly expanding defence ties.

Trade and commerce are also growing. We are working hard to build connections between Canadian and Philippine businesses to seize upon opportunities across a wide range of key sectors from sustainable mining, renewable energy, nuclear cooperation, defence and security, education, and more.

Canada and the Philippines are both maritime nations. We have a common interest in upholding international law, preserving our maritime environments, and ensuring responsible and sustainable use of maritime resources. In recognition of this shared interest, Canada is taking steps to share its knowledge and capacity in maritime affairs with our Philippine partners, including through new initiatives to enhance Philippine maritime domain awareness that we hope to bring online before the end of the year.

We also look forward to welcoming additional visits to the Philippines by ships from the Royal Canadian Navy, and other Canadian Armed Forces assets and personnel. These goodwill visits – part of Canada’s commitment to enhance our presence and deepen our defence relationships in the Indo-Pacific – provide new opportunities for collaboration, exchange of expertise and joint training.

Our two countries rank amongst the most affected globally by climate change, and unfortunately, we both have had to contend with the devastating effects of increasingly frequent natural disasters. Canada is making new investments in disaster risk reduction, in sound environmental management, and in climate change adaptation and mitigation. We see great opportunity to work together to protect fragile ecosystems, preserve biodiversity, and ensure sustainable economic growth here in the Philippines.

In October, Canada will host the next iteration of the Joint Commission on Bilateral Cooperation – our bilateral strategic dialogue. Our team is working with our Philippine partners to chart out a suitably ambitious program that will focus on collaboration to address our most pressing shared challenges including protecting our democratic institutions, combating malign influence, enhancing cyber defence, confronting coercion, and upholding a rules-based international order.

With so much possibility before us, the cause for ambition is clear. The momentum in the Canada-Philippines relationship is considerable, driven by our multiplicity of shared interests and our common readiness to cooperate to tackle shared challenges. The tone and trajectory we have set are auspicious as we look toward to 2024, when Canada and the Philippines will celebrate 75 years of official diplomatic relations – a noteworthy milestone in a long-standing, mutually beneficial and storied relationship.