INTERVIEW/Canadian office celebrates 35 years, lauds Taiwan transformation

Canada's de facto embassy is celebrating its 35th anniversary in Taiwan this year, having witnessed the nation's democratic transformation amid growing Ottawa-Taipei cooperation in multiple areas, the top Canadian envoy to Taiwan told CNA during a recent interview.

Canadian Trade Office in Taipei (CTOT) Executive Director Jordan Reeves said 2021 marks the 35th anniversary of the opening of CTOT, which represents Canada's interests in Taiwan in the absence of official diplomatic ties.

"This year, we're celebrating CTOT's 35th year, but we're also celebrating Taiwan's successful transition to a high-tech democratic society, because this has certainly contributed to the richness and diversity of our people-to-people ties today," Reeves said.

In 1986, CTOT opened with only three employees and a remit to support bilateral exchanges and Canadians living in Taiwan, according to Reeves. The office was originally co-located with the Canadian Society, the precursor to the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Taiwan.

"At the time, there were no direct flights to Canada, bilateral trade was only $1.6 billion Canadian dollars (US$ 1.23 billion) and of course, Taiwan at that time was still under martial law," he said.

Since that time, Taiwan has changed a great deal. It has become a democracy, with its first direct presidential election held in 1996, the envoy said.

"Taiwan has also made enormous strides in terms of gender equality, human rights, democratic governance, media freedom, all these areas, and has become a very trusted friend and trading partner for Canada," he said.

In terms of bilateral trade and investment, over the first nine months of 2021, trade was valued at $7.5 billion Canadian dollars. Since the office's opening, Canada-Taiwan bilateral trade has increased 10 percent annually, according to Reeves.

Today, three airlines offer direct Canada-Taiwan flights, though such services are currently suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Over the past three and a half decades, the two sides have signed 40 MOUs, in areas ranging from agricultural science to transportation and safety, with 28 still in place, he added.

"So you can say that the expansion of our office, our size and responsibilities, have also very closely tracked Taiwan's transition to a vibrant and economically diverse, inclusive society," Reeves said.

Naming one area of close bilateral cooperation, Reeves said Taiwan's world renowned national health insurance scheme which launched in 1995 was modeled on that of Canada.

More recently, Canadian public health officials have participated in discussions with Taiwan's Ministry of Health and Welfare to learn from Taiwan how to best control and manage the COVID-19, he noted.

Another area of cooperation is indigenous issues and the two sides have for two decades organized exchanges and collaboration between indigenous leaders, policymakers and artists, according to Reeves.

"We also started back in 2010 a working holiday program for Taiwanese youth and under that program to date, 12,000 Taiwanese youth have visited Canada," he said.

Looking to the future, Reeves cited conclusions reached during the latest round of the annual Canada-Taiwan economic dialogue held on Dec. 14, in which both sides pledged to continue to strengthen supply chain cooperation and deepen bilateral trade and investment ties.

On supply chain cooperation, Canada and Taiwan announced plans to undertake a joint supply chain study in sectors of mutual interest.

The two sides also discussed the importance of organizing a series of business roundtables beginning next year focused on electric vehicles, 5G, advanced manufacturing and other areas, according to a CTOT press release.

"So we've been very interested in the potential opportunities for bringing Taiwan hardware together with Canadian software."

The envoy said good collaboration can potentially provide Canadian companies with good access to some of the fastest and largest growing markets in Asia and vice versa.

According to CTOT, Taiwan was Canada's 15th-largest trading partner and its sixth-largest in Asia in 2020.

Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel