As the calendar closes on 2013, and the second year of Cal Dallas’s service as Alberta’s minister of International and Intergovernmental Relations, the MLA for Red Deer South feels that good progress has been made in connecting the province to the world.
Speaking in his Red Deer office, Dallas pointed to Alberta’s new international strategy — announced in May — as a big step forward in improving market access for companies here.
That strategy includes plans for diversifying Alberta’s markets through such steps as opening new trade offices in China, Singapore, India and Brazil; enhancing the province’s international reputation; and helping prepare Albertans and their businesses to compete in the global economy.
“There were a number of things that we wanted to get out of the gate in this past year, that we worked really hard on,” said Dallas of efforts to implement the strategy.
A key part of this work has been building relationships. Domestic examples include the recent framework agreement between Alberta and British Columbia with respect to pipeline development, and discussions with Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick about the proposed Energy East Pipeline, said Dallas.
The province is also strengthening its American connections through the likes of the Pacific NorthWest Economic Region, the Council of State Governments West and Midwest, the Western Governors’ Association, the Ports-to-Plains Alliance, the Canadian/American Border Trade Alliance, and the Montana-Alberta and Alaska-Alberta bilateral advisory councils, he said.
“We’ve done a lot of advocacy work with respect to our north-south energy access, particularly on Keystone.”
This has included trips to Washington by Dallas, Premier Alison Redford and other Alberta government officials, who have lobbied representatives of the U.S. State Department, Department of Energy, Congress and Senate.
“There’s a lot of work going on by a lot of my colleagues — building relationships, talking about challenges around building new trade and enhanced trade opportunities between the United States and Canada — that really fit together with the work that the premier leads and I support, in the context of direct initiatives like north-south energy access on the Keystone.”
Energy wasn’t the only Alberta-U.S. issue addressed by Dallas and his provincial colleagues during the past year. The United States’ mandatory country-of-origin labelling (COOL) rules — which require that meat products sold in the U.S. indicate the country they’re from and that they be processed and packaged separately — have been the topic of ongoing discussion, he said.
“We continue to advocate for a (level) playing field for our Alberta livestock industry and beef producers,” said Dallas.
“We think we’ve worked hard with the Americans to develop a continental livestock market. To implement what we see as protectionist-type measures, we’re very unhappy about that.”
Developments with respect to Alberta’s trading relationship with Europe have also been noteworthy, said Dallas.
These include the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada and the European Union, which was agreed to in principle in October.
Alberta provided input into the negotiations and sought to ensure that producers of products like beef, pork and grain would benefit from the deal, said Dallas.
“Obviously, there are many components of that agreement that we see are going to positively impact Alberta enterprises and their ability to access a European market that quite frankly we were almost shut out of on the basis of both real and pseudo-trade-type barriers that existed.”
The provincial government has also worked to raise awareness in Europe about positive steps Alberta has taken on the environmental front.
These include carbon capture and storage initiatives, collection of levies from large greenhouse gas emitters to promote renewable energy and green technologies, development of alternative energy like wind power, and other initiatives to protect air, water and land quality.
This advocacy was motivated in part by the proposed European fuel quality directive, which would classify fuel derived from Alberta’s oilsands as having greater greenhouse gas emissions than fuel from other sources of crude oil.
Finally, said Dallas, the importance of Asia was recognized in Alberta’s new international strategy.
He noted the framework agreement on sustainable energy development, signed by Alberta and China in October, which seeks to strengthen trade ties between the two jurisdictions.
“I think there’s great significance to be placed on what we’ve been able to achieve there,” said Dallas, pointing out that the agreement is the first of its kind between the Chinese central government and a sub-national government in Canada.
This should set the stage for new Chinese investment in Alberta, and for companies here to do business in China.