The British Columbia 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 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 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.
British Columbia’s trade offices are located in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Seoul, Manila, Jakarta, Singapore, New Delhi, Mumbai, Chandigarb and Hyderabad. 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 recently.
British Columbia’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.