As director of international operations with Alsace International — an economic development agency representing the Alsace region of France — Olivier Eck is keen to promote trade between Canada and the European Union. So he was taken aback on Thursday when he visited the Trade and Invest British Columbia office in Vancouver and noticed the slogan “Canada starts here.”
“That shocked me, because to us Canada does not begin in British Columbia; it actually ends at British Columbia.”
Speaking Friday morning at a Red Deer seminar organized by Central Alberta: Access Prosperity, Eck explained why Canadians should be looking east across the Atlantic when seeking trade and investment opportunities.
For one thing, he said, Europe represents the largest single market in the world.
Asian countries may have more people, but they don’t have the spending power of their European counterparts.
China ranks 95th in the world when it comes to per capita income, pointed out Eck, and India is 124th.
Barry Brickman, Alsace International’s representative in Western Canada, and who accompanied Eck to Red Deer, reinforced this point.
“This is a market bigger than the United States, with all sorts of affluent consumers there,” he said, pointing out that the EU is home to about 500 million people and has a GDP of more than $17 trillion — as compared to $15 trillion in the case of the U.S.
Eck and Brickman acknowledged that Europe is going through some tough economic times.
But they cited an OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) assessment that the region will return to growth in the second half of this year.
“We feel things are picking up,” said Eck.
And the 28-country economic zone should benefit from recent structural reforms, he added.
“Those reforms will make us stronger and better-performing once we are out of recession.”
Canadian companies that choose to locate in Europe can rely on predictable regulations and business practices — something that isn’t always the case in other jurisdictions, said Eck. The region is also one of the most innovative in the world, with 25 per cent of global research and development occurring there.
Europe also provides good access to markets like Russia, the Middle East and North Africa, said Eck.
“This is a big opportunity we’re talking about and we’ve got to start paying more attention to it,” added Brickman.
Pending trade talks between the United States and the EU, and continued work on the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada and the EU, should generate even greater opportunities for intercontinental trade, said Eck.
“We are building a common economic area between Western Europe and North America, including Canada.”
Also speaking at the Central Alberta: Access Prosperity session, which took place at Red Deer College, was Daryl Hanak. He’s the executive director of trade policy — international, with Alberta International and Intergovernmental Relations.
Hanak described the status of CETA negotiations, which have been ongoing since 2009.
“We’ve done some very good work on the grains,” he said of the agricultural component of the deal. “We’ve got some commitments already in place that will see tariffs reduced to zero.”
Increased exports of Canadian beef and pork to the EU have been points of contention, acknowledged Brickman, as have sales of canola — due to the fact the oilseed is genetically modified.
As the agreement now stands, he continued, 98 per cent of trade involving industrial goods will be duty-free.
Brickman expressed optimism that a deal could be finalized by summer, but noted that it would still take considerable time to attend to details like translation and ratification.
“We’re still looking at about a two-year period before it comes into force.”