Sunday, December 24, 2006

Looking at the potential of Asian-Pacific trade

An Asian-Pacific think tank has called on the federal government to look at a bigger picture when it comes to Asican trade. With their Canada Asia Agenda 2006 report, the co-CEO’s recommend an increased investment in education, workforce skills and awareness on the possibilities of increased trade with Asia.

The Daily News featured some of their findings in Friday’s paper.

Country needs to focus on Asia’
By Leanne Ritchie
The Daily News
Friday, December 22, 2006

The Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada is calling on the federal government to invest in education, workforce skills and business awareness of Asia as part of its Pacific Gateway Strategy.

“The Pacific Gateway is a powerful metaphor for the deepening and broadening of our ties with Asia,” said the Foundation’s Co-CEOs, Paul Evans and Yuen Pau Woo, in their report, Canada Asia Agenda 2006.

“How we conceive of our place in the Asia Pacific is a key to our success in forging deeper and more enduring relations with Asia.”

The Asia Pacific Foundation is Canada’s leading independent resource on contemporary Asia and Canada-Asia relations.

The Foundation’s report argues that a National Gateway Strategy must go well beyond the upgrade to West Coast ports and other transport infrastructure needed to handle the predicted huge increase in trade with Asia in the next few years. Planned infrastructure improvements, including the conversion of Fairview Terminal to a container handling facility, are just one component of the strategy and have already been announced by the federal and B.C. governments.

The foundation feels that even more important are the “software” upgrades needed in education, workforce skills and business awareness of Asia.

“Asia’s rise and its influence on Canada will affect all parts of the country and all sectors of society. Halifax and Winnipeg will feel the impact as much as Vancouver,” said Dr. Evans, who was among speakers at the Change Brings Opportunities Conference in Prince Rupert earlier this year.

“We can prepare for these changes in ways that Canadians will benefit from the emerging global economic structure, rather than being fearful of forces we cannot stop,” said Dr. Evans.
“Now is the time to act boldly.

“We need to think big, think nationally, think continentally and think comprehensively.”
A key part of the Gateway Strategy is based on Western Canada’s location as the closest part of North America to Asia with rail links to the rest of the continent.

“We need a broad, national commitment to an Asia Pacific Gateway Strategy that will maximize Canada’s geographic advantage as the most competitive entry point into North America for trade and investment across the Pacific,” said Woo.

As the report points out, “an Asia Pacific Gateway Strategy does not involve a sea-change in our national direction or international relationships.

“Close ties with the U.S. will always remain the key to Canadian prosperity and security. However, the Gateway Strategy must involve some changes in our mindset and in the way we do things” to accommodate irreversible changes that are under way in Asia.

North Coast MLA Gary Coons said he too is concerned about the lack of a follow up plan for the investment in Gateway Strategy.

In late November, he spoke in the legislature about his concerns.

“A presentation by David Fung, chair and CEO of ACDEG Group, entitled ‘A New Confidence in Outlook of the North and the Neglected’ envisioned great opportunities to invest in some of the smaller and shallower container ports ... to open up a West Coast container distribution hub so that community-based manufacturing and short sea shipping could be coastal economic drivers,” said Coons.

“Mr. Fung saw the missing elements in our port strategy as being no ambitious regional economic development plan; no regional stakeholder council with the involvement of Vancouver, Prince Rupert, the government, first nations, shippers and carriers; no business plan to develop short sea shipping or inland container-loading terminals along the corridor.”

“Containerization is a key. It has enormous potential, especially to the northwest corridor. We need a port strategy that does not miss the boat.”

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