Ben Stewart, then B.C. trade representative for China, and former forests minister Steve Thomson visit Nanjing Technical University facilities, Dec. 3, 2016. B.C. has four trade offices in China as part of its Asia trade network. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)

B.C. to ‘embed’ Asia trade offices in Canadian embassies

Opposition MLAs call it short-sighted effort to cut costs

Opposition MLAs say the B.C. government’s decision to close its stand-alone trade offices in Asian countries is an effort to cut costs that will have long-term consequences for the province’s economy.

The move was revealed late Thursday by Kelowna West MLA Ben Stewart, who served for three years as B.C.’s trade representative in China after vacating his seat following the 2013 provincial election.

Stewart called the decision “a slap in the face to important partners,” with “no plan to bridge relationships with our Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian, Filipino, Korean and Indian business partners.”

The NDP government has been cutting costs across ministries as its billion-dollar surplus has dwindled during the two and a half years of its minority government. Letters to officials in charge of the B.C. trade offices hint at cost saving as one of the reasons.

“The province wishes to ensure our international resources reflect our trade diversification network, continue to meet the needs of B.C. businesses and provide B.C. with the best value for their investment,” states a letter obtained by Stewart giving three months’ notice to close the B.C. trade office in Jakarta, Indonesia.

“That is why we are actively working with Global Affairs Canada to embed provincial employees in embassies and consulates across Asia. This will allow the province to leverage the considerable international investments the federal government has made in Global Affairs Canada the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service and Invest in Canada.”

RELATED: B.C. lumber industry still has high hopes for China

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The latest Asia trade office to open is in Singapore, announced in March 2018 by Bruce Ralston, jobs, trade and technology minister in the NDP government. An office in Malaysia was opened in May 2016 by then-minister Mike de Jong, B.C. Liberal MLA for Abbotsford West.

B.C. trade offices are located in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Seoul, Manila, Jakarta, Singapore, New Delhi, Mumbai, Chandigarb and Hyderbad. All are changing from contractors and leased offices to being “co-located” in Canadian embassies and consulates, which is similar to other provinces, Ralston said in a statement Friday morning.

“British Columbia wants to expand and diversify our presence in Asia and connect more closely with the federal government’s international resources,” Ralston said. “We think this change will better help B.C. businesses and give British Columbia the best value for the investment they are making.”

B.C.’s trade outreach to Asia includes four offices in China, which rose to become the province’s second largest forest products importer after the U.S. during the past 10 years. Forests Minister Doug Donaldson accompanied forest industry executives on his second Asia trade mission last fall, including meetings with Chinese government and industry officials.

Donaldson cut short his first trade trip in December 2017 without entering China, in the wake of international tensions over Canada’s arrest of Huawei Technologies executive Meng Wanzhou shortly before he left with a delegation of B.C. forest products executives.


@tomfletcherbc
tfletcher@blackpress.ca

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