B.C. government moving Asian trade offices into local embassies and consulates

Ben Stewart served as BC's trade representative in China.
Ben Stewart served as BC's trade representative in China. Jonathan Bartlett / Global News

The B.C. government is shutting down standalone trade offices across Asia and moving them into consulates and embassies across the continent.

The government says under the new model, the province will no longer carry the costs of contractors and independent office leases.

“British Columbia wants to expand and diversify our presence in Asia and connect more closely with the federal government’s international resources,” Trade Minister Bruce Ralston said.

“We think this change will better help B.C. businesses and give British Columbians the best value for the investment they are making.”

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B.C.’s Asian Trade Investment Representative offices are in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Seoul, Manila, Jakarta, Singapore, New Delhi, Mumbai, Chandigarh, and Hyderabad.

But the BC Liberals are convinced the move will hurt relationships the province has built in these cities.

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“Trade relationships are being flushed away with another step backward and increase costs for all trade dependent B.C. businesses,” Liberal MLA and former BC Special Representative in Asia Ben Stewart said.

“John Horgan government doesn’t understand business relationships that put B.C. on the trade map. Co-location with Canada will take considerable time.”

The province says any cost savings from a transition will be redeployed to support B.C. business activities. The government says it is not a cost-saving measure.

Jobs, Trade and Technology Minister Bruce Ralston is expecting there to be a redistribution of several million dollars in 2020/2021 to new in-market activities and expansion into new markets.

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Stewart says B.C. tried the co-location model but decided to abandon it because it was not effective. The province responded late on Monday night only after Stewart tweeted about the change.

“The fact that this is done quietly, the fact Minister Ralston put out a statement at quarter to 10 shows it is something they were hoping would go unnoticed,” Stewart said.

“It will be a devastated blow to companies who are in the midst of making deals.”