Canada and Mongolia: mining more than minerals
As Canada and Mongolia mark 50 years of diplomatic relations, eyes turn to broadening economic links beyond the mining sector. Mongolia is eager to diversify trade with “third neighbors” like Canada beyond natural resources.
Canada boasts as the second largest investor in Mongolia, including the giant Oyu Tolgoi copper-gold mine by Rio Tinto. Yet the relationship is ripe for diversification.
Honorary Consul of Mongolia Bryon Wilfert sees untapped potential in sectors like agriculture, renewable energy and education.
From his post in Toronto, Wilfert is working to spotlight opportunities outside minerals.
Clean energy is one area with potential, as both countries navigate massive geography with extreme climates. Canadian renewable know-how could aid Mongolia's transition away from polluting coal.
Agriculture and food exports also offer prospects, Wilfert notes. As do construction, emergency management and services given the countries' shared landscapes. But realizing this requires effort to spur business exchanges, trade missions and networking.
Essential too are direct air links, says Wilfert, with talks dragging on a Canada-Mongolia route. New flights can test if his thesis pays off. Unfounded doubts echo critics of Vancouver's Asian gateway role, proved wrong by customers flying from Seattle.
Yet economic ties are only half the picture. More vital still are people-to-people links. Most Canadians associate Mongolia with Genghis Khan (Chinggis Khaan) and cashmere, oblivious to today's country. Education and scholarships are needed to move beyond the stereotypes.
To that end, Wilfert is planting a tree this October to celebrate 50 years of bilateral ties. With student exchanges in the works, he also wants to showcase Canadian governance. As a former parliamentarian, Wilfert sees openings to develop Mongolia's legislative capacity.
But interest must flow both ways. Wilfert is working to promote Mongolian culture in Canada as well. His efforts include having local Mongolian communities in Ontario engage more with Canadian society.
As Canada pivots its focus to the Indo-Pacific, it should see Mongolia as more than a mine of commodities. The bilateral friendship forged 50 years ago is ripening into one with two-way trade, investment, technology and knowledge transfers. But realizing that potential requires channeling energy into the human connections underlying all diplomacy."
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