How B.C. is playing a major role in the growing trade ties between Taiwan and Canada

Many believe the economies of Taiwan and Canada are complementary.

Credit: Angel Lihsin Liu, director general of the Vancouver branch of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office

Many believe the economies of Taiwan and Canada are complementary

Taiwan is emerging as a rare bright light for Canada in a dark and dismal start to the 2020s. The decade began with COVID, climate disasters and deteriorating ties with China, all followed by Russia’s war on Ukraine. Then came inflation and rising interest rates to further anchor a global economy already drowning in record levels of debt and deficits.

Amid that gloom, Canada’s burgeoning ties with Taiwan— bilateral trade has boomed two years in a row, and the outlook is heightened further by the promise of increased political and economic links—have delivered an unexpected silver lining in terms of our national economy.

Trade between Canada and Taiwan exceeded $12 billion in 2022, according to Statistics Canada. That’s up more than 17 percent year-over-year and fully double the total from 2012—good for a faster rate of growth than with any of our other trading partners. While tiny in the context of Canada’s $1.54 trillion worth of global trade last year, Taiwan is positioned to punch well above its weight.

Though Chinese President Xi Jinping has vowed to “reclaim” Taiwan—which Beijing regards as a breakaway province—the West isn’t shying away from the island republic of 23 million people. Canada is one of the countries on Taiwan’s radar as part of its strategy to reduce economic dependence on China.

“We are optimistic of long-term bilateral growth, since our economies are complementary,” says Angel Lihsin Liu, director general of the Vancouver branch of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office, which has responsibility for Taiwanese affairs in Western Canada.

“Our semiconductor industry needs Canadian minerals and natural resources. Canada needs our semiconductors and ICT (information and communication technology) products and electronics.”

Liu’s optimism toward the relationship is shared by Ottawa, which has begun formal negotiations with Taipei for an investment agreement. Mary Ng, Canada’s minister of international trade, and John Deng, Taiwan’s minister without portfolio, met virtually on February 7 to kickstart talks for a foreign investment promotion and protection agreement that would encourage investments from both sides.

Uniquely, Metro Vancouver has a relatively high concentration of Taiwanese Canadians. And of the 150,000 people of Taiwanese descent in Canada, Liu estimates that 44,000 reside in Western Canada, with most of those in B.C. Those demographics offer the province a human resource advantage for building broad cross-border ties.

“Most of the Taiwanese people here are proud dual citizens of Taiwan and Canada,” she says.

B.C.’s vibrant and connected Taiwanese community—which includes Katrina Chen, Anne Kang and Bowinn Ma, all key members of the provincial NDP government—plays well into Canada’s new Indo-Pacific strategy, which was unveiled by Minister of Foreign Affairs Me?lanie Joly last November and is aimed at keeping Canada engaged in the region while countering an increasingly aggressive China. The five goals of the strategy include promoting peace, expanding trade, boosting investment and supply-chain resilience, fostering people-to-people connections and building a sustainable and green future.

Taiwan ticks all of those boxes, and B.C. in particular accounts for more than 43 percent of Canada’s exports to Taiwan.

Liu, a career diplomat who served a total of 12 years in the U.S. before taking on her current role, says the Taiwanese community is more visible and likely more influential in Metro Vancouver compared to Houston or L.A. As a result, she observes, “it is easy for people to meet up, do business and hold events.”

Reflecting on the changing geopolitical landscape, Paul Evans, an international relations expert at the University of British Columbia, says he foresees an increase in those people-to-people ties, including interactions “involving institutions such as universities, more parliamentary links and support for Taiwan’s possible inclusion in some trade agreements.”

Some of Taiwan’s biggest companies are already active in Canada, like Eva Air and China Airlines, which together operate an average of 14 weekly flights between Taipei and Vancouver, according to Liu.

YangMing Marine and Evergreen Marine, both global transport brands with a major presence at the Port of Vancouver, are key players in shipping industrial, commodity and consumer goods between the Canadian and Asian ports. “Air and sea traffic between Canada and Taiwan are now back to their pre-pandemic levels,” Liu says.

Some of Taiwan’s leading financial institutions, including Mega International Commercial Bank, CTBC Bank and First Commercial Bank, have branches in Metro Vancouver to serve the growing number of retail and corporate customers with exposure to both economies.

Natural resources account for the bulk of B.C. exports to Taiwan, including nickel, copper, iron and aluminum, as well as seafood and agricultural products such as soybeans.

From Taiwan, B.C. imports ICT products, electronics, automobile parts, bicycles, aircraft components, athletic wear and sports accessories.

But as innovators in both markets set their sights on growth in the emerging areas of clean energy, food tech, electronics and electric vehicles, those trends are looking ripe for disruption.

Last October, Taiwan’s Sinbon Electronics signed a strategic partnership agreement with Vancouver’s Damon Motors to contribute to the electrical assembly in Damon’s line of electric motorcycles. A month later, Taiwanese tech behemoth

Foxconn and Canadian national research organization Mitacs agreed to jointly develop electric vehicle software and human-machine interfaces, with plans for the establishment of a software research centre in Canada. And Taiwan’s Molicel, which manufactures rechargeable lithium-ion cells and batteries, recently announced plans to expand its production line in Maple Ridge to meet the growing demand for its products in North America.

But the new generation of tech-linked businesses isn’t just flowing from Taiwan to Canada. “Vancouver’s Lululemon has a dedicated team on the ground in Taiwan that is currently working with Taiwanese textile companies to develop cutting-edge fabrics,” says Liu.

The clothing giant is collaborating with U.S.-based Lanza-Tech and Taiwan’s Far Eastern New Century to create the world’s first fabric made from captured carbon emissions.

Liu also points to Vancouver’s JustKitchen, which recently signed an agreement with President Chain Store Corporation (which operates 7-Eleven stores in Taiwan) to enhance food delivery systems and ready-to-eat meal options.

The long shadow of Xi Jinping’s plan for “reclaiming” Taiwan still looms. But Canada—and especially B.C.—is continuing to grow its relationship with Taiwan.