Concerned about negative economic fallout from increased international trade activity? Don’t be. The numbers show that countries that reduce barriers and pursue trade with other countries experience accelerated economic growth and rising living standards.
In Atlantic Canada, some might say we are punching above our weight in international trade. While Canada exports about 30% of its GDP, our figures in 2015 (even before several trade agreements) were much higher: 80%+ in NB; 60% in NL; 45% in PEI; and, 38% in NS.
Looking deeper, a large proportion of our exports come from the production of oil, tires and potatoes. Clearly, Atlantic Canada has certain comparative advantages to other countries and is able to sell these products in world markets. And logically, imports are not necessarily bad since they only occur when imported products are less expensive or higher quality, providing consumers with savings and greater choice. But from a perspective of growing the economy, improving productivity and creating jobs, exports are certainly more desirable.
Atlantic Canada has the resources and capabilities to sell products and services to markets vastly larger than the 2 million inhabitants of our region. We are strategically located close to markets along the US Eastern Seaboard (118 million people), and to the European Union (512 million people). We have a highly educated population, low cost of living and world class internet services. So, what do we need to do to take advantage of this opportunity?
With the conclusion of international trade agreement with the US, Europe and Asia, there are several significant categories of businesses where exceptional opportunities exist for Atlantic Canada. Among them are the huge number of small and medium-sized companies and those engaged in the services sector, such as technology and engineering. The challenge is to de-mystify the processes needed to access foreign markets and assist businesses with limited resources in connecting with new export opportunities.
For many, operating a company in a small market across four provincial jurisdictions is sufficiently demanding, leaving little time and resources to explore vast markets with different cultural and legal characteristics. The reality is there are many resources, easily accessible, to take business owners from determining if they are ready to export to creating a suitable export plan to actively engaging with foreign markets. Significant resources and often personalized services are available from Canada’s Trade Commissioner Service, Opportunities NB, NS Business Inc., Innovation PEI, and NL Tourism, Culture, Industry and Innovation. At the federal level there are many tools to assist businesses of all sizes available on the Canada.ca website with additional information and services from the Export Development Corporation.
These government departments are great, no-cost entry points into the process of finding and connecting with a vast array of new clients for local businesses, but they are only the beginning. For instance, the Halifax Chamber of Commerce is partnering with the federal and provincial governments to deliver the Trade Accelerator Program (TAP). The TAP is an innovative, practical and comprehensive four-day program held over six weeks, helping Nova Scotia SMEs strategically scale-up and overcome barriers to exporting.
Prior to Confederation, Atlantic Canada was the country’s epicentre for international trade. And it can be again. Our region has significant desirable natural resources as well as technical services, all centrally located and connected to global transportation routes. The first step is to access export development resources online or by phone to determine if a business is ready and able to pursue sales growth in global markets. Or ask your local Chamber of Commerce to put you in touch with somebody who is already successfully exporting overseas. After all, that’s what the Chambers of Commerce are for – building networks, sharing experience and supporting businesses in their communities. •