Alberta trade minister Deron Bilous leads a delegation to China and Japan tomorrow that is arguably one of the more important ones this province has ever conducted. This trip was planned long before any one dreamed of what would have happened stateside.
Eighty organizations and businesses are joining Minister Deron Bilous including the airport authorities of both Calgary and Edmonton, and the two economic development agencies of the two cities. Yet with the trade reset button hit with Donald Trump’s victory, Bilous said nothing has changed for Alberta.
“Long and short, the answer is no,” Bilous said in an interview. “The fact of the matter is Alberta needs to continue to diversify our markets. We want to build a resilient strong economy. The best way to do that is to have multiple trading partners, multiple buyers for our products.”
“Obviously the U.S. is our largest trading partner. They’re a very valued ally. There’s no question on that front. But we need to ensure that our companies and our products are getting top dollar and the way to do that is to work with partners internationally and to build on existing partnerships.”
China and Japan are Alberta’s second and third largest trading partners, respectively. In 2015, Alberta’s two-way trade with China and Japan totalled more than $7.8 billion, with potential for growth. The province’s trade with China increased by 16 per cent last year.
“China is very important to Alberta.” Bilous said. “They’re our second largest trading partner but we know that there’s significant room to grow. They’re interested in everything from agriculture, beef, pork, chicken, our grains, to our forestry products, to oil and gas, and clean technology.”
“When I was there in March climate stewardship, climate responsibility was one of the top three priorities with every Chinese official I met with. I think China is wanting to move toward a greener economy. They recognize the value of clean technology and are looking for partnerships.”
Bilous on Friday took part in a conference call with his provincial and territorial colleagues with federal international trade minister Chrystia Freeland. He said the Trump victory did not dominate the conversation, even though Trump had on the campaign trail suggested he would want to re-negotiate NAFTA.
“The federal government is engaging in conversations for future trade deals with other countries,” Bilous said. “They’re interested in helping Canadian businesses expand markets.”
And on the continued trouble looming with the U.S. on softwood lumber Bilous said there’s no news. “The Canadian government is continuing its conversations with the U.S. There’s nothing really to report on.”
“I continue to have regular conversations with Minister Freeland, to ensure she’s aware of Alberta’s position on softwood.”
“We want a fair deal that obviously protects Alberta’s best interests.”
Bilous will be joined by one political and one departmental staff member for a total cost of $60,000. They leave Tuesday and return November 27. The trip will close at a big trade show in Yantai province to promote Siwin Foods, a company born out of the incubator program in Leduc two decades ago.