For Canadians addicted to Chinese products and their one-billion-strong market, the latest dispute causes many of us to wonder whether it’s worth the personal and geopolitical risk
After 1,019 days in captivity by Chinese authorities, Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Korvig arrived home last week; marking the end of the most acrimonious Sino-Canadian diplomatic row in history.
China arrested the businessman and former diplomat in December 2018 after Huawei executive Weng Wanzhou was detained in Vancouver on a US extradition request.
The row over ‘The Two Michaels’ as it’s known locally was not a one-off; but the product of years of tensions that will little-doubt resume after this brief draw down.
For Canadians addicted to Chinese products and their one-billion-strong market, the latest dispute causes many of us to wonder whether it’s worth the personal and geopolitical risk to do business with the PRC.
But Canada has an alternative that offers both market opportunities and no geopolitical risk: Bangladesh.
Although often ignored by mainstream market commentators, Bangladeshis the emerging world’s fastest-expanding economy and is a growing force as a manufacturer for export and a market for Canadian goods.
Bangladesh’s products are often more price-competitive and better quality; and have superior human rights track records than Chinese counterparts.
For example, Bangladeshi garment factories are independently inspected for labour practices and unlike in China, Bangladeshi products are not tainted by political prison labour.
Canadian companies in China that complain of rampant intellectual property theft and demands for technology transfer should look to Bangladesh.
Bangladesh has a history of ethical treatment of foreign investors and rather than copying foreign products, Bangladesh is already a leader in homegrown medical breakthroughs and logistics.
The strengthening Bangladesh-Canadian relationship is bearing out in the numbers. Trade more than tripled between 2004 and 2019 to nearly $3 billion and most of Bangladesh’s agricultural imports are from Canada.
As Bangladesh continues to develop, it offers more opportunity for Canadian companies wanting to tap the consumer market.
The Bangladeshi public is undergoing a historic transformation as wealth increases and buying power grows.
With this comes a consumer market of over 200 million in a country expected to transition from least-developed to middle income in the coming years. Canada needs to be a part of that.
Bangladesh is hitting the ground running with its greatest asset: its people. Bangladeshis are becoming better-educated and local curriculums are not infused with Cultural Revolution-style propaganda.
Bangladeshis have strong international connections through a diaspora that often returns home with international credentials to capiatlize on their booming homegrown economy.
Over 6,500 Bangladeshis study in Canada – a 150% increase over 2014, say government figures. Canada has a Bangladeshi community of over 100,000 that maintains strong links with their homeland.
And on the development front - Canada is a strong partner for Bangladesh’s outreach for the Rohingya refugee crisis.
For Canadians, Bangladesh carries none of China’s geopolitical risks.
Unlike China, Bangladesh has no territorial ambitions against its neighbours, nor does it carry out predatory intelligence-gathering operations in Canada.
Bilateral disputes between Canada and Bangladesh are ironed out through professional dialogue; not hostage diplomacy.
The Canadian government should do its part to discourage our companies from doing business in China, while encouraging closer links with Bangladesh.
George McLeod is a Canadian political analyst and managing partner at Access Asia – a regional risk consultancy. George has worked closely with Bangladesh since 2011 and appears in the BBC, Bloomberg, The New York Times and other global outlets.