Premier Stephen McNeil and key cabinet ministers spent Tuesday morning briefing Chinese Ambassador Lu Shaye on the issues important to Nova Scotia, and McNeil seemed to come away with a key commitment — a promise by Lu to lobby his government to establish a direct flight from Halifax to China.
"Premier McNeil mentioned to me that he really wants to have a direct air from China to Halifax," Lu said through an interpreter. "I will very actively … promote and make it happen."
Speaking to reporters later, McNeil said it was an idea he has been promoting for the past two years, and it seems to be gaining traction.
"What's been encouraging is we're getting more and more enthusiasm for the idea now," he said.
McNeil said he has approached a number of airlines, as well as talked about the need for direct flights to China with officials at the Halifax Stanfield International Airport.
The premier said direct flights — even if they were only once a week — would help in three ways, including supporting Nova Scotia exports, improving tourism and expanding the post-secondary education sector.
"We believe getting access will continue the momentum that we have built already with the China market," said McNeil.
Support for exports
When it comes to exports to China, seafood tops the list. Last year, Nova Scotia companies that sell seafood shipped $255 million worth of product, mostly lobster. Nova Scotia blueberry producers sold $3.1 million worth of products to Chinese distributors.
Lu admitted most people in China know the province for only one thing.
"The first impression for most of the Chinese public, I think that when we mention Nova Scotia, we will have the picture of a lobster in our mind," he said.
"All the lobsters exported from Canada to China that there were, 95 per cent is from Nova Scotia." he said. "You also have good grape and wines but for the Chinese customers we don't well know about it."
But Lu appeared ready to embrace the notion of the province as a new air link.
"For the Chinese people we greatly know that Nova Scotia is very important gateway located in the East Coast of Canada."