Trump hasn’t changed Alberta’s plans: Bilous

Alberta’s trade minister says Donald Trump’s victory in the U.S. election last week hasn’t changed the province’s plan to diversify its economy by expanding new markets.

EDMONTON — Alberta’s trade minister says Donald Trump’s victory in the U.S. election last week hasn’t changed the province’s plan to diversify its economy by expanding new markets.

Deron Bilous says a major delegation to China and Japan was planned long before the vote in the United States last week.

Eighty organizations and businesses are joining Bilous on the 12-day mission.

They include the economic development agencies of both Edmonton and Calgary.

China and Japan are Alberta’s second- and third-largest trading partners, respectively.

Alberta’s two-way trade with those two countries totalled more than $7.8 billion in 2015.

“Long and short, the answer is no,” Bilous said in an interview when asked whether Trump’s win has changed Alberta’s game plan to lessen its reliance on the oil and gas industry.

“The fact of the matter is Alberta needs to continue to diversify our markets. We want to build a resilient, strong economy. The best way to do that is to have multiple trading partners, multiple buyers for our products.”

Bilous acknowledged that the U.S. is a “valued ally” because the country is the province’s largest trading partner.

“There’s no question on that front. But we need to ensure that our companies and our products are getting top dollar, and the way to do that is to work with partners internationally and to build on existing partnerships.”

The province’s trade with China increased by 16 per cent last year.

“China is very important to Alberta.” Bilous said. “We know that there’s significant room to grow. They’re interested in everything from agriculture — beef, pork, chicken, our grains — to our forestry products, to oil and gas and clean technology.”

Bilous said climate responsibility was one of the top three priorities with every official he met when he was on another trade mission in China in March.

“I think China is wanting to move toward a greener economy. They recognize the value of clean technology and are looking for partnerships.”

Bilous on Friday took part in a conference call with his provincial and territorial colleagues with federal International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland. He said the Trump victory did not dominate the conversation, even though the president-elect suggested on the campaign trail that he would renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.

“The federal government is engaging in conversations for future trade deals with other countries,” Bilous said. “They’re interested in helping Canadian businesses expand markets.”

Another area of concern given Trump’s protectionist rhetoric is softwood lumber, which has been at the heart of a dispute that has dragged on for years. Canada’s most-recent agreement with the U.S. expired last month.

“The Canadian government is continuing its conversations with the U.S. There’s nothing really to report on,” Bilous said.

“I continue to have regular conversations with Minister Freeland to ensure she’s aware of Alberta’s position on softwood.

“We want a fair deal that obviously protects Alberta’s best interests.”

The bulk of Alberta’s wood products go the United States and the province’s forestry sector could face significant challenges if there is no renewed agreement. Part of the trade mission will be to find new customers.

The trade delegation is to leave Tuesday and return Nov. 27.

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