New Year, New Opportunities

Caifu Magazine | by Sarah Kutulakos,Executive Director, Canada China Business Council

We have officially entered the Year of the Dog. In addition to heralding the start of a prosperous new year, it also marks the 48th year of Canada and China’s trading relationship and offers a chance to reflect on the growing commercial opportunities between our two nations.

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When Canada and China first began official diplomatic relations in the early 1970s, China was a largely agrarian country with a fraction of Canada’s per-capita-GDP. Fast forward to today, and China is on track to become the world’s largest economy and home to the single largest and fastest-growing middle-class of 350 million people – 10 times the size of Canada’s entire population.

As China’s economic growth reaches new heights, countries across the globe are scrambling to keep up and capture other emerging markets – and Canada is no exception. Nationally, Canada already conducts $84 billion in bilateral trade with China. In addition, the new Comprehensive Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) agreement, ongoing efforts by the Canadian government to pursue more favorable trade terms in Asia, as well as uncertainty around the future of NAFTA, all point towards a shift to expanding and diversifying our trade with Asia Pacific markets.

But while we’ve made incredible progress, there remain key, under-utilized opportunities for trade with China. 

E-commerce, for one, represents a significant growth opportunity for Canadian businesses in China, bolstered by the country’s enormous middle class. Annually, the Chinese middle class spends a staggering $5 trillion – mostly online – and with far greater frequency than a typical North American consumer. These consumers have tremendous purchasing power, which, coupled with their positive view of Canadian products, presents a unique space for Canadian producers and manufacturers. As a force of equalization, e-commerce is especially advantageous for small and medium-sized Canadian businesses, which can more easily compete with large corporations online. The upcoming China International Import Expo, aimed at encouraging more imports from countries like Canada, presents additional commercial openings for Canadian companies.

A second significant growth opportunity is through China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a development strategy aimed at encouraging trade through enhanced connectivity and cooperation between Asia, Europe and Africa. This ambitious vision – which includes infrastructure projects valued at nearly a trillion dollars – will require extensive support from foreign firms, including in niche areas where Canadian companies offer unique resources and expertise, such as commodities, technology, R&D, and environmental controls. Canada’s privileged trade access to countries in CPTPP provides extra leverage for our companies to work on BRI projects in these countries.

While it’s up to the Canadian private sector to take the lead, government has a role to play in paving the way, too.  

For example, as Canadian commerce with Asia Pacific markets increases, we need to ensure that our nation’s trade infrastructure has the capacity to facilitate the efficient, economical, and reliable movement of goods. The Port of Vancouver – Canada’s largest port and the anchor of its Asia Pacific gateway –  already moves nearly 30 million metric tonnes of cargo to and from China. By 2035, independent forecasts project the volume of containerized cargo, in particular, flowing through this gateway will nearly double. To that end, government must continue to invest in port, road, and railway infrastructure to ensure Canada is prepared to handle the anticipated influx of trade with overseas markets.   

Lastly, our government must continue to pursue economic agreements that enhance Canadian competitiveness. Prime Minister Trudeau’s exploratory discussions towards a free trade agreement are a positive step forward, and provincial leaders, such as B.C. Premier John Horgan, have made some promising inroads, as well. However, Canada is still lagging behind other Commonwealth countries like Australia and New Zealand, which both already have trade treaties with China, putting Canadian businesses – particularly our commodity exporters – at a significant disadvantage.

So, while there is clearly still work to be done, there is also tremendous opportunity. The public and private sectors should look towards closing gaps and nurturing the bonds that bind our nations together. After all, as Alibaba founder Jack Ma has mused: “If you miss China, you miss the future.”


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Sarah Kutulakos is Executive Director of the Canada China Business Council, Canada’s largest and oldest non-profit organization devoted to building the economic ties between the two countries.