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This article was published 22/1/2019 (1094 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Seven months into the Canadian government’s current emphasis on export diversification, Mary Ng, the country’s first small business minister to also have export promotion as part of the portfolio, was in Winnipeg on Tuesday to meet with small business operators to remind them of the opportunities out there.
Speaking at a World Trade Centre Winnipeg event, she said Brand Canada has never been stronger.
"The world wants and needs more Canada," Ng said.
“There are markets out there ‐ 1.5 billion customers in the global market place that are now accessible through the trade agreements Canada has signed.” — Mary Ng
In its fall economic statement, the government committed $1.1 billion to enhance export diversification — about 70 per cent of total Canadian exports go the U.S. — including $10 million dedicated to Ng’s department to go towards helping small business become more export-ready. Ng said a strategy as to how to deploy those funds is still in the works, but the goal is for Canada to increase its exports by 50 per cent by 2025.
She pointed out that while small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) account for 91 per cent of the employment in the country, only 12 per cent of them are engaged in the export markets —and in Manitoba that number is even lower, at eight per cent.
She acknowledged that it won’t be easy to increase that and that she believes the emphasis of her job needs to be on promotion.
"Export promotion is important because we do want to diversify," she said.
"There are markets out there — 1.5 billion customers in the global market place that are now accessible through the trade agreements Canada has signed."
In addition to the recently completed new NAFTA, Canada also has freshly inked deals with the European Union and with Pacific Rim countries (the so-called CETA and CPTPP deals) as well as bilateral trade deals with countries including South Korea, Israel, Chile and Ukraine that give Canadian exporters preferential treatment with 62 per cent of the global economy.
But the nuts and bolts required to get small businesses export-ready is not so straightforward.
World Trade Centre Winnipeg has been delivering a concentrated, four month program to address the issue. Called the Trade Accelerator Program (TAP), it is being offered by an increasing number of World Trade Centres across the country and has been generating some successes. A total of 500 Canadian companies have gone through the program, including close to 50 in Manitoba.
Currently the program does not receive any federal government support, but Ng said her department is aware of how it works. On Tuesday she heard about the value of the program from Kevin Klaassen, CEO of SK2 Custom Homes.
Klaassen said his business had been concentrated on building custom homes in the southern Saskatchewan oilpatch. But when the prices for Canadian oil went down, so did that market. He said his experience with the TAP program helped get him active in the North Dakota market and his company is now booked most of the way through this year.
With the recent announcement that the province will use the World Trade Centre as its strategic partner organization to deliver trade-related programming, it is well situated to continue to offer the program.
The next intake for Manitoba companies is the middle of next month but it currently only has the capacity to accept up to 15 companies in the program.
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.