(At the end of September, I was fortunate to be granted an informal interview with one of the Canadian Trade Commissioners abroad. This is the last in a four-part series of articles based on that talk.)
One of the most interesting parts of out talk was learning about the various areas where the International Trade Office helps Canada. To be honest, before meeting with the Trade Commissioner, I thought their main role was helping to bring smoked salmon and Blackberries abroad (only half-joking). In fact, there are 5 main areas that the combined Departments of Foreign Affairs and International Trade operates. The last two categories, unfortunately, we didn’t get into great detail about.
Environment, Bioengineering, and Energy
As mentioned in part III, there are several foreign companies investing in the energy sector in Canada. This ranges from solar and wind farms to the oil sands.
The environment and sustainable energy is a focus, however, and the Department of International Trade is involved with endeavours like Globe Vancouver, a trade show and conference (dubbed “the Davos of Sustainability”) dealing with the link between business and the environment.
Agriculture and Food
Because it is less noticeable than a shiny Blackberry or a towering wind turbine, agri-food is sometimes forgotten, but it is a major component of international trade.
Regulation is important, and the exchange rate is a large variable. Because of the strong yen recently, Japan has increased its purchases of Canadian commodities like grain and canola oil.
Other large players in this category are seafood, meats, maple syrup, ice wine, and though some readers may not like to know this, horse meat to Japan, where it is a delicacy. (Don’t knock it till you try it!)
High Tech, ICT, and Medical
Information and communications technology (ICT) is a large component of the trade between Canada and other countries, and RIM is only a small part of the pie.
Within ICT, Canada and Japan have worked together on Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS). This is technology using Middleware to link smart cars and smart roads. These systems are being designed to help with fuel efficiency, and can reduce traffic accidents and congestion.
Companies like Bombardier, Bell Helicopter, and Toyota also fit into this category, as the aerospace and automotive industries are large links between Canada and Japan. The cities of Hiroshima and Montreal, for example, are trying to deepen bilateral ties.
Building and Consumer Products
Canada is considered and advanced housing materials provider, exporting both unprocessed and cut lumber, insulation, flooring, and pre-fabricated components such as cabinets, doors and kitchens.
General Economy and Culture
All the other odds and ends of trade, as well as the areas that fall under the jurisdiction of the Department of Foreign Affairs.
Through these 5 categories the Department of International Trade plays a major role in connecting Canadian businesses to the world.
Unlike visiting the Canadian Embassy (which is like a fortress to gain access to) I found the Office of the International Trade Commissioner to be very open, and inviting. When I first walked into the reception area of the office, they were surprised (I hadn’t called in advance), but extremely friendly and excited about the idea of this article series. After a brief description of what I proposed to do, the Trade Commissioner quickly opened his schedule and we came up with some possible times to have our discussion. He emailed me personally that night with some requests to avoid red-tape (If I were to use his name or give the specific location of his office, this process would have had to go through official channels). We met a few days later.
My talk with the Trade Commissioner was a lively and informative talk. It moved through many topics and geographic locations. He is young, energetic, and has a genuine desire to have Canadian businesses succeed in Japan.
I would encourage anyone interested in International Trade to contact their local Trade Office to see if an informal chat could be set up. From my experience, they are more than willing to help educate at the grass-roots level.