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N.S. makes play for Chinese market, already its second-largest trading partner

HALIFAX – Capitalizing on export opportunities represented by China’s burgeoning middle class is one of the keys to growing Nova Scotia’s economy, says Premier Stephen McNeil.

McNeil announced a new strategy Thursday aimed at increasing the province’s access to the world’s second largest economy.

He said there are no export or job targets included in what amounts to a broad expression of the province’s intent to increase trade.

“I think the potential is limitless,” said McNeil. “As we see the growth of the middle class in China there is a hunger for high-quality product and we have high quality product.”

China is currently Nova Scotia’s second largest trading partner after the U.S., with provincial exports totalling $420 million in 2015. The figure lags well behind U.S. exports at $3.75 billion, but is an increase of more than 50 per cent over 2014.

Seafood exports, particularly live lobster, have led the way, growing from $14 million in 2009 to $208 million in 2015.

The strategy puts the province’s focus on its competitive strengths in areas such as seafood, education, IT and tourism. It identifies a need to strengthen relationships within the Chinese business community and to support Nova Scotia businesses which already have access to China’s market.

The province says it will also seek to generate more formal agreements similar to a memorandum of understanding signed with China’s education ministry in 2007 and like the recently signed ocean tech agreement between Dalhouise University and Shandong University.

Kevin Lynch, vice chairman of BMO Financial Group, said a concerted effort is needed by business and government to continue to push into the Chinese market.

“It’s a lot easier to go as a broad-based business community. I think this (strategy) is basically saying it’s time for the whole business community to actually take on board China.”

Lynch said China is open to new relationships and Nova Scotia is well poised to take advantage of that attitude.

McNeil believes one-on-one meetings are important to open the way for provincial businesses to conclude future deals.

He said his office is planning a trip to China in early September. It would be McNeil’s third trade mission to the country since being elected in 2013.