The Importance of Trade Missions

In recent years, government trade missions to foreign countries have come under some criticism. Prime Minister Martin apparently has cancelled the ‘Trade Team Canada’ approach and will not be taking delegations of Premiers abroad to promote investment or trade (although, it seems he personally will be spending a lot of time abroad considering his trips to Latin America, Africa and Asia in the past few weeks).

I, however, am a big supporter of trade and investment missions – particularly those that involve Prime Ministers and Premiers. It has been my experience that many companies are impressed when they are visited by a high level politician and it can add weight to trade and investment discussions.

That is why I fully support Premier Bernard Lord’s trade mission to Texas this week. I hope this signals more interest in trade and investment on his part.

I would provide one caution, however. These missions can be very expensive costing taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars. So the Premier would be well advised to select destinations strategically. I was very much against his visit to Russia a few years ago. Almost no New Brunswick companies went on that trade mission and in addition Russia has no value as a market for New Brunswick goods. From 2000-2003, the average annual amount of exports from New Brunswick to Russia was about $3M per year – or 0.04% of our total exports. Contrast that with the United States which consumes 89% of our total exports.

Russia was a collosal waste of taxpayer dollars. The U.S. is an infinitely better market to focus on.

In an effort to boost public confidence in these perceived ‘junkets’, I suggest that the Premier’s economic development officials publish a report card each year that outlines these missions, their costs (yes including the $90 hamburgers) and their outcomes. This would do two things. It would provide the public with accountability and it would allow the government to assess their value.