For much of the past decade, the government of British Columbia has concentrated on forging stronger ties with Asia, the fastest growing region in the world.
Expanding markets in Asia for B.C. goods and services is crucial to the province’s prosperity. While much of the developed world struggles to recover from a debilitating recession, virtually all economic growth is taking place in emerging markets. Many economists and experts predict that by 2050, Asia will account for 50 percent of global economic activity. As Canada’s Pacific province, B.C. is ideally situated to develop even closer links with this lucrative market.
At the end of February, Pat Bell, the minister of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation, attended the annual federal-provincial-territorial meeting of ministers responsible for international trade in Ottawa. One of the most interesting items discussed during that meeting was Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s trade mission to China.
A particularly promising result of that trip was the announcement of a Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement. The government of Canada’s commitment to complete a trade and economic study by May 2012 is welcomed. There is little doubt that such a study will identify tangible solutions to improving trade and investment.
In the meantime, trade barriers still exist and much more needs to be done. In spite of those restrictions, B.C. has enjoyed spectacular success in Asia and exports to the key markets identified in ‘Canada Starts Here: The BC Jobs Plan’ ‘ China, Japan, India and South Korea ‘ rose 23.3 percent in 2011 over the previous year. However, there are even greater opportunities in these markets, which is why B.C. is so supportive of Canada’s expression of interest in joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations. The multilateral agreement encompasses a free trade zone of 950 million people with a combined gross domestic product of more than $28 trillion.
When it comes to trade, B.C. has been collaborating for a number of years with Alberta and Saskatchewan. The western provinces have assumed a leadership role in eliminating barriers to trade, investment and labour mobility, first in 2007 when we launched the Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement with Alberta, and again in 2010 with the New West Partnership with Alberta and Saskatchewan.
The partnership between the three western provinces has created an economic powerhouse of nine million people with a combined GDP of about $500 billion. As Canada’s largest interprovincial barrier-free trade and investment market, the New West Partnership paves the way for the three provinces to work together to the benefit of workers, businesses and investors, enhancing competitiveness and giving our provinces an edge in international trade and investment in Asia and other markets.
To that end, the three provinces have established a joint Western Canadian Trade and Investment Office in Shanghai and collaborated on joint missions, such as the 2010 premiers’ joint mission to China to promote trade and investment opportunities between western Canada and Asia, and the mission to Beijing and Shanghai by Alberta and B.C. ministers of agriculture.
Where this partnership has been most effective, however, is in removing internal or domestic barriers to trade, investment and labour mobility, making western Canada a decidedly more attractive market in which to invest and do business.
Leadership, focus and sheer hard work have led to phenomenal results in Asia for the province. B.C. exports in 2011 to the Pacific Rim outstripped those to the United States for the first time. The value of goods exported to China reached $5.1 billion, a 24 percent increase over 2010 and a staggering 442 percent increase since 2001.
The BC Jobs Plan, which was launched in September, will continue to build on these achievements. Part of our success in Asia is based on steps we have taken as a government, such as investing in infrastructure that helps companies efficiently get their goods and services to international markets. We are committed to doubling B.C.’s international presence in the next year. At home we have opened the Asia Pacific Business Centre in Vancouver and devoted an entire division of the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation to growing economic ties with Asia and other priority markets.
Cooperative approaches to trade, investment and business priorities are key to a prosperous Canada. Focusing on the building relationship with growing markets in Asia makes sense for all Canadians.
Dana Hayden is British Columbia’s deputy minister, Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation.