Blogs & Comment

China: some trade mission context

Beijing, 6 a.m.

Two weeks ago, in the Canada China Business Councils cramped downtown Toronto headquarters, I sat down with Sarah Kutulakos, Executive Director of the CCBC, for some background going into this trade mission.

First and foremost, this is an effort to counteract the effect the federal governments lack of direct engagement with Chinese government official is having on Canadian companies ability to do business in China. When the CCBC surveyed its members in 2007, what they heard was that it might be having an impact, but there werent any concrete examples of deals that fell through. But when surveyed again in January 2008, they started to hear concrete examples. When German Chancellor Angela Merkel comes to talk up Siemens, for example, that does give it an edge of Canadian competitors.

In China, business leaders still take their cues from senior leaders, and the chill in high-level political diplomacy between China and Canada has begun to make Canadian businesses shudder. Getting deals done is easier when national leaders are talking.

Kutulakos told me that even a Beijing taxi driver asked her why Canadian leaders werent willing to come to China.

Of course, not all Canadian politicians have stopped coming to China. Provincial delegations have conducted trade missions of their own in recent years, but individual premiers have a limited political impact. So the Council of the Federation, a provincial formed in 2003 as an attempt at more collaborative intergovernmental relations, has organized a group trade mission, in conjunction with the CCBC. The hope: arriving en masse will garner some attention.

Kutulakos said that the CCBC has a delegation of about 100 people coming, with representatives from BMO Financial and the other banks, legal and investment firms, Manulife, Sun Life, Silver Corp. Metals, engineering consultant Hatch Ltd., SNC Lavalin, Research In Motion and Bombardier.

The provincial delegations are each focused on specific local industries they want to promote. Last night, for instance, I shared a shuttle bus with a few representatives from Manitoba and New Brunswick delegationsuniversity deans, RBC Financial, a flight training school, and a peat moss company.

I will have more details on who is here as the CCBC and provincial delegations release their list of attendees.

The premiers are holding a press conference at 5:15 p.m. local time.

The CCBC will host a banquet tonight to hand out some business awards for success in China, but in general, Kutulakos says, Canadian businesses are still holding back from aggressively pursuing trade with China, choosing to rely on the U.S. instead.

The attitude here will be one of optimism and opportunity, with the hope that this critical mass of corporate executives and provincial politicians will overshadow those Canadians who are not here.

Formal events begin this morning.