Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Exports to foreign, U.S. markets top of mind for many

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Manitoba's exports topped $11 billion last year, which sounds like a lot but definitely could be better.

In fact, the total fell last year by close to five per cent compared with 2011, but through the first eight months of this year the total value of exports is up 8.3 per cent.

For many years, efforts have been extended from several different quarters in Manitoba and across the country to diversify export markets from the overwhelming reliance on the U.S., and it's starting to take.

However, this year U.S. export sales from Manitoba are up thanks to an improving U.S. economy, while international sales are down.

There is no magic bullet that will create the perfect mix of export sales that will ensure the right kind of balanced growth in the provincial economy, but exporters and international traders here have a growing number of tools and support services at their disposal.

Some of them were in evidence this week at a couple of events.

A trade mission of agri-technology companies from India was in Winnipeg. They were hosted by a bevy of trade support agencies.

On Thursday, the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters (CME) held a trade summit featuring presentations from local companies explaining their experiences in the export market and representatives from North Dakota, South Dakota and Iowa presenting basic introductions to their general economic realities.

Two-way trade with India was a modest $107.2 million in 2012, including only $42 million in exports, a surprisingly small piece of Manitoba's total export market considering the enormity of the Indian market and its fast-growing economy.

But then again, it is a much more challenging proposition than doing business with the neighbour to the south, where Manitoba shipped $7.4 billion worth of goods in 2012.

At the CME event, Gavin Rich, vice-president of Richlu Manufacturing, the Winnipeg work apparel manufacturer, said the competitive U.S. market was always a tough nut for his company to crack, especially now that currency exchange is close to par.

But with the rapid rise in online shopping, Rich said his company's Tough Duck brand of heavy duty work wear is available on the websites of such large U.S. retailers as JC Penney, Sears, K-Mart and others.

He said his company's online sales into the U.S. market is up more than 100 per cent, though it's still a very small number of its total revenue.

Online markets mean companies such as Richlu can achieve some initial penetration in the U.S. with very little upfront costs.

In partnership with Winnipeg customs broker GHY International, which has established a fulfilment warehouse in Pembina, N.D., Richlu is able to sell to customers one at a time without those U.S. retailers having to handle the product, other than through digital images and website management.

That's a lot easier than negotiating the complexities of the Indian market.

Having said that, Manitoba exporters and interested potential foreign direct investors into Manitoba have their own complexities to negotiate.

At an event in Winnipeg for the Indian trade mission this week, no less than three trade-development entities made presentations to the group.

The point is, there is plenty of support -- moral and technical -- and encouragement for international trade to take place in Manitoba.

Hopefully, that array of services can be honed to become as effective as possible.

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 22, 2013 B6

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About Martin Cash

Martin Cash joined the Free Press in 1987 as the paper’s business columnist.

He has spent two decades chronicling the city’s business affairs.

Martin won a citation of merit from the National Newspaper Awards in 2001 for his coverage of the strike and subsequent multi-million-dollar union settlement at the Versatile tractor plant. He has also received honours and awards for his work on agriculture and technology development in Manitoba.

Martin has written a coffee-table book about the commercial and industrial make-up of the city, called Winnipeg: A Prairie Portrait.

Martin Cash on Twitter: @martycash

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

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