Vancouver Island’s business and industry leaders pitched their ideas and concerns involving trade with Asia to the federal government.
Ed Fast, international trade and Asia-Pacific Gateway minister, met with more than a dozen Island municipal, business, transportation and industry stakeholders in Nanaimo Tuesday on the first stop of a western Canadian consultation tour.
“The strategy is to leverage the national geographic advantages we have on the West Coast. Our ports are closer to the Asia-Pacific economies than the ports to the south of us in the United States,” he said. “But we’re going to lose that advantage if we don’t invest heavily in the infrastructure required to make the exporting and importing of goods into and out of Canada more efficient.”
Fast said a couple of future infrastructure projects in Nanaimo were discussed at the meeting, but he wouldn’t identify anything specific.
“I think everyone here understands we do have some opportunities we will look at very closely,” he said. “But the federal government has a limited amount of dollars to invest in infrastructure, so we prioritize projects to make sure taxpayers are getting the very best value for the dollars they invest.”
Levi Sampson, president of Nanaimo Forest Products, said with the Harmac mill selling 60 per cent of its pulp to China, Korea, Japan and Australia, he’s glad the government is focusing on Asian trade.
“The biggest thing that businesses, community leaders and government can do increase trade within Asia is be present,” he said. “By that, I mean being there. You have to be face-to-face, have meetings over there to build those relationships if you want to increase trade.”
Sampson visits Asia three or four times a year, saying if he’s not in front of his customers, somebody else is.
“There are some meetings and some relationship-building you can’t get done over the phone,” he said. “All things being equal, if pricing is the same, most customers are going to go with the person they know, the person that makes the effort to see them.”
Discussions at the meeting included the marketing of seafood products, timber, coal and international education.
Mayor John Ruttan said it was important Fast hear first-hand the concerns and hopes of businesses on the Island.
“In some cases, they’re wanting assistance from the government and others are looking for recommendations and ideas on ways of opening new markets,” he said. “It’s so important to keep nations like China, India and Korea close at hand, and communications with prospective buyers and sellers is the key to it.”
Susan Allen, Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce CEO, said Fast’s visit shows the government is interested in the future of Nanaimo’s business community.
“It was interesting listening to the people around the table,” she said. “There were a lot of small businesses that had concerns about exporting and need some answers. The minister was willing to listen to them and take the information back.”
Fast said the meeting provided an understanding of the diverse economy on the Island and the opportunities federal, provincial and municipal governments, and the private sectors have to partner up.
“Canada has embarked on its most trade agenda in its history and is committed to using trade as a key driver of economic growth and job creation. We received some helpful advice here on how we can do that better,” he said. “We want to make sure when we sign off on a trade agreement that it’s in Canada’s best interest.”