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Canada, Thailand talking free trade

Canada looking to diversify economy away from reliance on US.

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Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, left, and Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper review an honor guard at Government House in Bangkok today. Harper is on a 3-day visit to Thailand. (PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL/AFP/Getty Images)

Canada and Thailand signed an agreement today to explore free trade, a decision the Canadian prime minister called the beginning of an “exciting era” for both countries, CBC reported.

Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra welcomed Stephen Harper to Bangkok as part of the Canadian leader’s weeklong trip that also includes South Korea and Japan.

“We are now embarking on a new and exciting era in our relations,” Harper said, according to CBC. “The commitments we are making on this trip lead us to being much closer partners, economic partners, security partners, and of course social and cultural partners for decades to come.”

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Canada’s foreign affairs and trade ministers, as well as business executives, are accompanying Harper on the trip.

It's the Conservative PM's second trip to Asia this year after spending time in China last month.

The Canadian government is also looking for additional markets for its oil and natural gas, while diversifying away from a reliance on the US.

"Our government believes it is essential that we be able to sell our energy products outside of North America, to partners and countries other than the United States," Harper said, CBC reported.

Thailand is Asia’s – and one of the world’s – fastest-growing economies, CTV News said, and a prime target for Canada’s energy sector.

Last year, Canadian-Thai trade increased nearly 15 percent to almost $3.5 billion. CTV said Thailand is Canada’s largest merchandise trading partner.

“Our Government is working hard to create jobs, growth and long-term prosperity in Canada by expanding free and open trade with the world,” an official statement from the Prime Minister’s Office said, CTV reported. “A free trade agreement with Thailand – one of the fastest growing economies in the world – stands to significantly benefit farmers and businesses across Canada."

Thailand is looking to continue its recovery from devastating floods last year.

“Thailand also looks forward to welcoming Canadian investors to our electronics, machinery, automobile and information technology industry as well as cooperation on alternative and clean energy, environmental protection and biotechnology,” she said, AFP reported.

Also on the agenda for Harper is curtailing migrant ships containing Tamil asylum seekers, who in the past have used Thailand as a staging area.

In South Korea, Harper will participate in a nuclear security summit.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/asia-pacific/thailand/120323/canada-thailand-talking-free-trade