You likely missed them, but on December 30, B.C. Liberal MLA and trade critic Ben Stewart launched two tweet missiles. They were duds.
Stewart's first tweet: “Just confirmed Premier Horgan is shutting down ALL BC Trade offices in Asia immediately! Is it budget pressures or anti Free Enterprise policies shutting the door on 40% of Canada’s exports to Asia? Why is story being buried at New Years?”
Just one teenie-weenie problem, it's not really true.
What the B.C. government is doing is what most other provinces already do. The province is moving its offices into Canadian embassies.
Here's how Alberta puts it for one of its trade offices: “The Alberta Korea Office is conveniently located in the Embassy of Canada in the heart of Seoul. As a result, Alberta has access to the federal government personnel and expertise in all major economic sectors..."
The Québec, Alberta and Ontario governments all have their offices at Canada's Embassy in China. Provincial offices at the Canadian High Commission in London include Ontario and Alberta.
One of the B.C. government's motives behind the move is to save on rent. When did that become bad thing?
Stewart wasn't done tweeting. His second that night: “BC Trade has notified all Asian offices to shut immediately. A slap in the face to important partners, no plan to bridge relationships with our Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian, Filipino, Korean & Indian business partners. A small minded government that continues to insult voters.”
A tweet that screams out for someone to check in on B.C.'s Asian trade performance.
In 2012, the value of B.C. origin exports to 11 major trading partners, including the United States (plus the catch-all “other”) was $31.5 billion, according to B.C. Stats. By 2016, it had risen to $38.4 billion. Not bad, but the devil – as always – is in the details.
The respective numbers for exports to Mainland China were $5.75 billion (2012) and $5.6 billion (2016), for Japan $4.1 billion and $3.7 billion.
Some Pacific Rim nations – the countries Stewart was responsible for as investment and trade commissioner from 2013 to 2016 – were up, some down, but roll them all together and, in 2012, the value of exports to the region was $13.65 billion. In 2016, it was $13.5 billion.
As a share of B.C. exports, China fell from 18.3 per cent to 14.7 per cent. Excluding the United States, Pacific Rim countries dropped from 43.4 per cent to 35.1 per cent.
Since Stewart raised the subject, here are a couple of the numbers for the year he was appointed B.C.'s Asian Trade Investment Representative and the year he left.
In 2013, the value of B.C. exports to Mainland China was $6.6 billion and $201 million to Hong Kong. In 2016 – his last year as representative – the respective numbers were $5.6 billion and $198 million.
Stewart was supported by eight investment representatives, contracted from Ho Hing Consultancy Inc., at a cost of nearly $6.8 million over four years. According to financial advisor Andrew Johns, Stewart's appointment cost taxpayers $3 million per year.
Despite a record number of trade missions to Asia under the former premier, the missions were better known for the signing of MOUs, letters of intent and sightseeing than investment deals.
There was time to feed pandas, time to visit a temple in Kyoto, Japan and, of course, take in the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea.
The photos from these activities don't include any of the participants on the trade mission, just the politicos and senior government employees.
On one such mission to Japan in 2016, the government issued a news release touting the province as a tech “hot spot.” It noted that B.C. “has attracted major Japanese gaming companies, including Bandai Namco Studios, CAPCOM and Valhalla Game Studios.”
Valhalla was far from a done deal. As Douglas Quan of the National Post reported in 2017, Valhalla had put its relocation “on hold.”
Looking at the results of some of the trade missions you have to wonder whether it would have been a better idea to stay at home?
For the curious, since 2016, the value of B.C. exports sold to Pacific Rim nations has grown from $13.5 billion to $17.8 billion in 2018. Still a ways to go on share, but it too is headed in the right direction.
Dermod Travis is the executive director of IntegrityBC.