New Brunswick

Atlantic Canada to replace B.C. as gateway to China, says Shawn Graham

Move over British Columbia — New Brunswick's former premier Shawn Graham says Atlantic Canada is on its way to becoming the country's new trade hub with China. .

Former N.B. premier Shawn Graham is part of Brian Gallant's trade mission to China, which kicks off Friday

Shawn Graham, former premier of New Brunswick, says New Brunswick and the entire Atlantic region is well on its way to becoming the new destination for Chinese businesses. (Radio-Canada)

Move over British Columbia — New Brunswick's former premier Shawn Graham says Atlantic Canada is on its way to becoming the country's new trade hub with China. 

Part of the transition includes Chinese businesses setting up shop in cities such as Moncton and Fredericton, according to Graham

"Traditionally you see the major cities like Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto where Chinese have looked to start their business and set up. Well, that's changing now," Graham told Radio-Canada.

The reason for the East-West shift comes down to lower costs to start a business on the East Coast, plus the appeal of a more "traditional Canadian lifestyle," said Graham, who was Liberal premier between 2006 and 2010.

But it's not just Chinese businesses coming to Atlantic Canada, Graham said there's an influx of East Coast companies ramping up business with China, including Graham's own public policy consulting company, G&R Holdings.

Graham is part of Premier Brian Gallant's nine-day trade delegation to China, which starts Friday and the government is calling "New Brunswick's largest-ever multi-sector delegation" to the country.

The former premier's business is one of 17 New Brunswick companies that are part of the trip to promote trade in the region.

Representatives from the University of New Brunswick and Mount Allison University are also part of the delegation. 

Premiers need to do more: Graham

New Brunswick and other Atlantic provinces face hefty challenges if they're to become the go-to place for Chinese business.

'That daily flight [to China] would be a game-changer for the economy in this area- Shawn Graham, former New Brunswick premier

According to a September 2016 report from the Library of Parliament, sourced from Statistics Canada, British Columbia accounted for 30 per cent of exports to China in 2015, while Atlantic Canada made up a mere 4.9 per cent.

Graham said in order to bridge the trade gap, Atlantic premiers need to step up their efforts and co-ordinate a strategy to boost business with China.

"I think there can be better synergies of us working together with the federal government in developing this China strategy that mirrors what's happening on the West Coast of Canada," said Graham.

As for what that would include, Graham boils it down to the biggest priority — a direct flight to China.

"If I was premier today, a recommendation I would give to my colleagues ... is we should be looking proactively together at establishing a direct flight from China to the Maritime provinces, whether it be Moncton or whether it be Halifax," said Graham.

"That daily flight would be a game-changer for the economy in this area," said Graham.

'I unfortunately made that mistake'

Graham also has another key piece of advice for Gallant, based on what the former premier said was a major mistake during his time in office.

Graham visited China, but only once. He now describes the lack of follow-up visits as a huge oversight.

"I unfortunately made that mistake early in my mandate, I only visited China once as premier," said Graham.

"You need to have those long-term relationships and lasting contact."

Graham said it's important Gallant visit the country at least a second time to show he's serious about trade in the region.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wrapped up a trade mission to China last month.

Formal free trade talks have yet to move forward between the two countries, but Graham said because Trudeau signalled a deal will happen, the province needs to be ready to take advantage of the situation.

"We can't squander this opportunity as a province," said Graham.