Olson: Asia holds great opportunities for Alberta

There is no shortage of opportunities for Alberta’s agriculture sector on the world stage, especially in Asia.



There is no shortage of opportunities for Alberta’s agriculture sector on the world stage, especially in Asia. China and Japan are our second and third largest agricultural export markets, worth a combined $2.8 billion annually, and there is plenty of room for growth to meet the needs of their surging populations and economies.

I had the chance to witness that potential firsthand during a trade and investment mission to Asia earlier this year. The mission targeted key financial centres and market access points in Hong Kong, Singapore, China and Japan.

We met with companies interested in doing business with Alberta, particularly in the grains and meat sectors. We also met with government officials to discuss how we can better strengthen our trade relationships. There is clearly a real appetite for Alberta’s high-quality food products including beef, pork, grains and oil seeds.

What is also clear is that our province has to continue to aggressively promote itself to make the most of these opportunities. The competition in the global marketplace is fierce and Alberta is fighting for a place on Asian menus with other suppliers like Australia and the United States.

Alberta’s international offices will have an important role in keeping our province front and centre in the minds of Asian consumers and businesses. As well, trade missions, such as this recent one, also reinforce Alberta’s commitment to increased trade as well as create opportunities for Alberta companies to make connections with potential clients and investors.

On this mission, we were able to bring about a dozen agriculture and energy companies together with approximately 175 potential investors at business “matchmaking” seminars. While it is still too early to assess the full extent of the results of the mission, I know the agriculture companies who participated have reported at least 20 solid investment leads that were generated through these meetings. I’m hopeful some of these new food connections will turn into long and prosperous relationships.

While the trade mission was an eye-opener about the market possibilities we need to pursue in Asia, it also drove home the point that there are challenges here at home that we must overcome. Our recent troubles moving last year’s record harvest to market by rail has resulted in a fair amount of angst among our international customers, who are concerned about the long-term dependability of our rail service.

In order for Alberta and Canada to avoid any permanent damage to our reputation as a reliable global supplier of energy, food and other goods, we have to continue to aggressively seek and implement improvements to the transportation system for all commodities. Recently passed federal legislation that set minimum quotas for grain delivery has certainly helped.

We are also pleased that the federal government is expediting the review of the Canada Transportation Act to identify additional measures. We are strongly encouraging representatives from all commodity sectors to participate in the review process to ensure that their concerns and suggested solutions are put on the record. Our reputation as a world class supplier of high-quality food and other commodities relies on our ability to deliver those goods to market in a timely manner.