Perrin Beatty: Japan can be Canada’s Partner in Combatting COVID

The Hon. Perrin Beatty, PC, OC is the President & CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. This op-ed was originally published in The Hill Times.

The world as we knew it before COVID-19 is gone and not likely to return. In addition to the transformation being forced by the pandemic, the great power rivalry and economic decoupling between the United States and China have left Canada adrift in a world without the structure that has been the bedrock of Canadian foreign policy.

In the absence of American leadership, Canada needs to redouble its focus on key bilateral relationships. Traditional allies like the United Kingdom, France, and Australia will remain key. However, our low-profile relationship with Japan offers considerable opportunity for stepping up collaboration to the benefit of both countries.

Our two countries have much in common. They are strong and increasingly complicated economies that need much of what the other produces. Both are parliamentary democracies, possess strong public health care systems, respect the rule of law, support multilateralism, have interesting and powerful neighbours, enjoy a web of free trade agreements and possess well-educated workforces. As the two largest players in the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, we were just starting to leverage the opportunities presented by CPTPP before the pandemic struck.

The spread of the virus has disrupted some of the plans that were being formed, but it has also created both an opportunity and an imperative for closer collaboration. As the world’s third-largest economy, Japan can be a crucial partner in the fight against COVID-19 and in protecting Canadian interests.

There are four main areas where we can work to bilaterally to combat the pandemic.

First, preparing for a second wave of COVID-19 or future pandemics will take global collaboration organized through the World Health Organization (WHO). While the WHO’s handling of COVID-19 has been seriously flawed, global pandemics require a global response. We need to reform the WHO, not abandon it. Japan is an even larger financial contributor to the WHO than Canada and our two countries should work together to reform and strengthen the institution. We need to learn the lessons from COVID-19 and to increase transparency and information-sharing among members.

Secondly, we must increase our efforts to support trade flows of medical goods. The early days of the pandemic were marked by a scramble for governments and businesses to secure personal protective equipment. As economies continue to reopen, the acute need for these products will only grow.

Export controls enacted around the world became a huge problem as they disrupted the flow of medical supplies and equipment when they were needed most. Efforts to resolve this issue are currently at an early stage at the World Trade Organization, but Canada and Japan can take a leadership role through the Ottawa Group to develop transparent and predictable rules on the trade in medical products. It’s in our mutual self-interest to ensure we have the supplies we need to protect our citizens.

Another area for joint activity is in sharing best practices. Fortunately, we don’t each have to figure out how to deal with the pandemic by ourselves. Instead, we can share best practices and learn what works and what doesn’t in other countries. The numbers show that the Japanese, despite living in one of the most densely populated countries, are among the world leaders in flattening the curve. They have developed innovative ways of identifying and isolating new clusters, and their rate of infections and deaths is one of the lowest reported.  And, like Canadians, the Japanese have ready access to a modern health insurance system within a complex web of responsibilities at the municipal, provincial/prefecture and national levels.

Finally, our countries need to continue our efforts to develop a vaccine. Japan has recently launched human clinical trials and the Japanese company, Medicago, is doing vaccination research in Canada. Delivering vaccinations on a global scale will require an unprecedented global effort. As countries with some of the best scientific minds, bilateral cooperation can help us achieve our mutual goals that much more easily.

Canada has maintained a diplomatic relationship with Japan for over ninety years, but that relationship remains underdeveloped. The current global environment has both created new opportunities to engage with one another and has made collaboration even more urgent.

Hon. Perrin Beatty, PC, OC
President and Chief Executive Officer
Canadian Chamber of Commerce