Canada businesses impatient for China growth as Harper promotes trade ties

Thu Nov 6, 2014 11:38pm EST
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By Andrea Hopkins

HANGZHOU, China Nov 7 (Reuters) - Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper kicked off his trade mission to China on Friday facing criticism from businesses that the troubled diplomatic relationship between the two nations has hampered their efforts to tap China's burgeoning market.

Harper, on his first visit to China in two years, announced the opening of four new trade offices in the cities of Hangzhou, Xian, Xiamen and Tianjin to help the entry of Canadian businesses into the fastest growing regions of China.

The trip is Harper's third to China since he took office in 2006. But as he kicked off a conference bringing together Chinese and Canadian executives looking to do business with each other, some Canadian executives said political and economic irritants between the two countries have made it hard to keep pace with competitors in other countries.

"Any time there are those geopolitical things that are beyond the control of the businessman ... it slows things down big time," said David Curtis, president and CEO of Viking Air Ltd, a British Columbia-based company that makes small seaplanes.

Curtis said China, with hundreds of cities near waterways, offers a "huge" opportunity for his company, but he has been stymied by slow progress trying to get the company's Twin Otter seaplane certified in China - though it is already certified in 75 other countries.

He said other nations appear to understand that government-to-government interaction is especially important in China, while Canada neglects the relationship.

"You can bet our colleagues to the south in the United States, in France, in Brazil, their political leaders - whether mayors or the prime minister or the president - are talking aerospace, and it is so important. We need to have our products front and center, and the politicians talking about it," he said.

China is Canada's second-largest trading partner after the United States. In 2013, two-way merchandise trade between the countries reached C$73.2 billion ($64 billion), accounting for 7.7 per cent of Canada's total merchandise trade.   Continued...