International Trade Minister Teresa Wat paid a Thursday visit to Vancouver Island businesses she plans to promote during a coming trade mission to Asia.
Her tour included Fanny Bay Oysters, the Deep Bay Marine Field Station and Salish Sea Foods. She also met with Pentlatch Seafoods general manager Richard Hardy, whose expansion plans include the cultivation of geoducks and sea cucumbers. Both are in-demand delicacies in Asia.
“You can see tremendous opportunities,” said Wat, the MLA for Richmond Centre who travels to China on Nov. 21 with a team including Premier Christy Clark. She will also visit Hong Kong, from where she emigrated to Canada 24 years ago.
Wat, who speaks Cantonese and Mandarin, was appointed in June as Minister for International Trade and Minister Responsible for the Asia Pacific Strategy and Multiculturalism.
Her mission is to sell B.C. and its services.
“My scope is more than China, it’s just that China is such a huge market,” she said. “The economic growth rate is fantastic. Even though they say they have slowed down — it used to be double digits — still it’s 7.5 per cent. You can see the tremendous opportunity there.”
Another emerging market is India, where Wat said the middle class population is expected to reach 600 million in 20—30 years.
“That’s about the population of the United States. That’s why we diversify export markets.”
While recognizing challenges faced by local seafood and shellfish producers, Wat was impressed by the “entrepreneurial spirit” in both the Comox Valley and Campbell River.
“If we can expand production of geoduck and sea cucumber, I think we will provide more jobs to the local community, and generally more revenue for the Comox Valley and the whole province. It’s really exciting.”
Wat credits former premier Gordon Campbell for initiating a forestry operation investment office in Shanghai about a decade ago. The Province, she said, has since penetrated the Chinese market with wood frame houses and value-added wood products.
“To this stage, our wood export to China is $1.4 billion. It’s a 3,500 per cent increase compared to 10 years ago. Because of this strategy, we weathered the 2008 economic recession much better than the rest of the country.”
The federal government has reached an agreement-in-principle for a Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with the European Union. Wat said the Province advocates using the same collaborative model to further advance trade negotiations in the Asia Pacific region.