In what is likely to be one of the final trade missions of his tenure, Premier Jason Kenney is heading to South Korea to talk up small modular nuclear reactors, hydrogen and the auto industry.
While the trade delegation hopes to move some of the province’s energy and trade goals forward, some are questioning the staffing and timing of the trip with just weeks left before the UCP’s new leader is announced.
“South Korea is a major possible energy export market, and the MOUs that we signed around small modular reactors and the growth of the South Korean nuclear community makes this a worthwhile trip,” Mount Royal University political scientist Duane Bratt told Global News.
“But because he is leaving in six weeks, it does put a bit of a damper on that.”
Departing Aug. 27, Kenney will be meeting with the Korean Atomic Energy Research Institute, Korea’s Minister of Science and Information and Communications Technology Lee Jong-Ho, Korea’s Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy, Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power, steel-making company POSCO Holdings, Hyundai Motor Company, and Hyundai Engineering.
According to a release from the province, Alberta signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Albertan and South Korean stakeholders to “support cooperation” on small modular reactors (SMRs) in November 2021. Seven months earlier, Alberta joined a similar MOU with Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Ontario.
On Aug. 11, Alberta signed an MOU with Terrestrial Energy for SMR development in the province.
Kenney will be joined on the trip by Invest Alberta CEO Rick Christiaanse, CKBC Inc. representative Sunjong Chun, and Gerald Chipeur, honourary consul of the Republic of Korea, also known as South Korea. A pair of the premier’s staff will also be on the trip.
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During the same week, Energy Minister Sonya Savage will be headed in the opposite direction as the premier, to Stavanger, Norway, to attend the Offshore Northern Seas Conference and meet with government officials and energy companies.
In a statement, Kenney said ties with South Korea – Alberta’s fifth-largest export market – are “strong and unwavering.”
“Turning to one of our best trading partners in South Korea is only natural, especially at a time of global energy insecurity. We must continue to strengthen ties between peaceful and democratic allies when it comes to energy,” the premier said in a statement.
Bratt noted the purpose of trade missions is to meet representatives in person, something Kenney echoed in the context of the recent ‘Alberta is Calling’ advertising campaign.
“It’s important that we get to places like Korea to tell our story,” Kenney said in a video posted to social media. “We’ll be doing that face to face and person to person with some of the top business leaders in Asia.”
“It’s tough to make those personal connections when you’re on your way out,” Bratt said.
Irfan Sabir, MLA for Calgary-Bhullar-McCall, said the trip was a “waste of opportunity and a waste of public money” given the waning days of Kenney as premier.
“Knowing that the premier will be out of office in six weeks, I wonder how much stock those economic leaders in Korea will put on what the Premier has to say,” Sabir told Global News.
He suggests the trip could have been delayed until November, when the new UCP leader and premier is in place, or until after the spring election.
“Especially now that the UCP leadership crisis is ongoing, economic leaders here in Alberta and across the world, they are alarmed by the views expressed by some UCP leadership candidates — the separatist views expressed by some leadership candidates — so I don’t think that at this time the premier should be leading a mission to Korea,” the NDP MLA said. “They should focus on issues that are facing Alberta communities at this point.”
Alberta is a net exporter to South Korea, with top exports being meat, nickel, wood pulp and primarily coal-powered energy.
–with files from Sarah Komadina, Global News