Malaysia remains optimistic that ongoing talks to remove visa requirement for Malaysians to visit Canada will be further pursued, now that there is renewed interest to enhance the decades-old bilateral relations between the two countries.
Expressing optimism over efforts to lift the visa imposed on Malaysians, outgoing Malaysian Ambassador to Canada Aminahtun Karim Shaharudin said there was a need to facilitate and further develop people-to-people exchanges, attract Malaysians and promote trade and technological know-how.
"There are no thorny issues between both countries but only one outstanding matter - Malaysians require visa to come to Canada - and we would like to see the need lifted," she said, adding that even though the matter had been discussed at ministerial levels, it would take some time to resolve.
In an interview with Bernama, Aminahtun said the reformist agenda of the current Pakatan Harapan government for a more open and inclusive Malaysia had resonated well with Canada’s own stance and values and had endeared Malaysia to Canada.
The career diplomat of 36 years, who served as ambassador to Canada since early 2016, said as the visa is a sovereign issue, it would be for the Malaysian government to continue to raise it with the Canadian side, which imposed such requirement, post-Sept 11.
According to her, there has, however, been an improvement in this area as Malaysians now find it faster to obtain a visa to come to Canada, with a processing time that used to take up to six weeks now reduced to just about three weeks.
"I would say, we have had some success in this regard," said Aminahtun, noting that some other countries whose nationals needed a visa to come to Canada as well, waited even longer.
Already not being helped by the distance between Malaysia and Canada, Aminahtun lamented the difficulties and inconvenience Malaysian students and parents, as well as businessmen, faced with the visa barrier.
Malaysia and Canada are multi-cultural societies and members of the 53-nation Commonwealth, with both having had active exchanges at multiple levels, including parliamentary exchanges and cooperation in defence and security matters.
She said the outcome of Malaysia's 14th general election and Pakatan Harapan’s resounding win had generated much positivity and confidence among Canadians and government officials alike, over the reformist agenda taking place in Malaysia and this augured well for both countries.
"I have had lots of discussions and all my contacts, even those at Canadian universities and think-tanks have shown renewed interest in Malaysia," she said, disclosing that a very senior level Canadian delegation was going to Malaysia soon to discuss bilateral relations moving forward.
Aminahtun said fresh calls for more inclusivity in Malaysia currently have struck a chord with the Canadians, who also took pride in being a multi-cultural society whose values included more openness and equality.
Strong bond between the two countries
The outgoing ambassador added that Canada was among the first 20 countries to establish diplomatic relations with Malaysia soon after Independence and over the last 61 years, relations had proceeded smoothly and continued to expand.
There is a fairly strong Malaysian presence in Canada - about 10,000 in the Greater Toronto Area, 5,000 in Vancouver and pockets of them across cities in the country.
According to statistics from Global Affairs Canada, the country in 2016 welcomed approximately 14,000 visitors from Malaysia. As of May this year, about 2.6 million Malaysian tourists visited Canada.
The number of sponsored Malaysian students in Canada has declined over the last few years, however, as government agencies instituted cutbacks.
As of last year, the number registered was 200 but the number of private students continues to grow through Canadian private schools.
There are programmes such as the Canadian International Matriculation Programme run by some Malaysian colleges leading to higher enrolment. More recently, Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia and Waterloo University in Ontario have attracted more Malaysian students.
At the same time, Aminahtun said, it was encouraging to note there were more and more Canadian students heading to Malaysia to engage in industrial training with Canadian companies, as part of their coursework.
Touching further on the strong bond between the two countries, Aminahtun urged Canadians to look at Malaysia with its well-developed infrastructure and highly skilled workforce and being closely knitted in the massive economies of Southeast Asia, in which Canada had been a dialogue partner for many years.
In terms of Southeast Asia, Malaysia is Canada’s third largest trading partner. Canada meanwhile, is trying to diversify its market, looking at Asia, especially China and India and other Southeast Asian states, amid its own current trade dispute with neighbouring United States.
According to the Malaysian Ministry of International Trade and Industry, last year Canada was Malaysia’s 23rd largest trading partner, 32nd largest export destination and 20th largest import source - with total trade between Malaysia and Canada growing by 11 percent to RM6.57 billion (CA$2.1 billion).
Currently, Malaysia does not enjoy preferential tariff in the Canadian market but imports fertilisers, grains, electrical machinery and mechanical appliances from Canada.
Malaysia’s investment in Canada includes Royal Selangor Inc, Supermax Healthcare Canada, KNM Process Equipment Inc (manufacturing plant for oil sands industry), TA Global Berhad (hotel industry); and UEM (Canada) Sunrise Development Corporation (property development) while major Canadian investments in Malaysia include Celestica (information technology and application development based in Kedah, Johor and Penang), Scotiabank (banking); Sun Life (insurance); and, Manulife (insurance).