By R. Sakai-Irvine
The Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Japan welcomed the Sept. 18 (Ottawa time) announcement that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will visit Canada on Sept. 23-24 for talks with his Canadian counterpart Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
"The visit between the two PMs signals a change in direction and focus in the longstanding Japan-Canada partnership," CCCJ Chair Wilf Wakely said, hailing the first bilateral summit on Canadian soil since former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visited for talks with Prime Minister Harper in 2006.
According to Ambassador Sadaaki Numata, chair of the CCCJ's Honorary Board of Advisors and then Japan's envoy to Canada, Canadian interest in Japan "back in 2006 (was) somewhat overshadowed by the 'emerging' China and India."
In fact, the Japan-Canada Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) was originally floated by Mr. Harper at that 2006 meeting. "Now, seven years later, the negotiations are in full swing. And Canada's profile has risen in Japanese eyes because of our need to change the energy mix after 3/11," Ambassador Numata said, referring to the blow dealt to Japan's atomic energy industry by the Fukushima nuclear disaster triggered by the March 2011 tsunami. "It is fair to say that the relationship is perceived to be more important than it used to be," he concluded.
Mr. Wakely also took note of the role energy was playing in the developing bilateral diplomatic and economic relationship, noting that Canada's "energy resources represent a stable and reliable supply of such important resources for the industry and households of Japan.
"This is a good time for friends like Canada to rally around Japan as it emerges from the terrible years of economic malaise and from the devastation of the Tohoku triple disaster," he added. However, as noted in a recent Canadian Chamber of Commerce (CCC) study, the United States is currently nearly Canada's only energy customer – and the U.S. is projected by many analysts to become energy independent in the next decade. According to the CCC study, this near-exclusive relationship, Canada is losing some $50 million a day in oil and gas revenue. As such, the needs of Canada as an energy provider, and Japan's as an energy consumer, are nearly perfectly aligned.
The ongoing Japan-Canada EPA negotiations – which the PMO release called "a key trade priority" for the Harper government – and Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade talks are likely to top the agenda for the men's discussions.
"Canada and Japan enjoy a robust and dynamic partnership, underpinned by a common vision for shared prosperity and security, and strong people-to-people ties," Prime Minister Harper was quoted as saying in the PMO release. "I look forward to meeting with Prime Minister Abe to discuss how to further strengthen bilateral commerce and promote strong, sustainable and balanced global economic growth."
That is certainly a wish shared by the Chamber, and Mr. Wakely praised Japan as an ideal trading partner for Canada and vice versa.
"There is a noticeable 'bounce' in the step of the Japan-Canada business communities these days. Japan has a strong central government with a deep understanding of the importance of business, there are positive economic indicators and there is a refreshing feeling of hope in the prospect of the Olympic Games in 2020," Mr. Wakely said. "We wish both leaders the best as they continue to develop their relationship in Ottawa."
Canadian PMO's announcement of Prime Minister Abe's visit to Canada:
Business Vancouver article on the Canadian Chamber of Commerce study on Canadian energy: