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B.C. Finance Minister Michael de Jong delivers a balanced budget for a fifth year in a row at Legislative Assembly in Victoria, B.C. Tuesday, February 21, 2017. (CHAD HIPOLITO/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
B.C. Finance Minister Michael de Jong delivers a balanced budget for a fifth year in a row at Legislative Assembly in Victoria, B.C. Tuesday, February 21, 2017. (CHAD HIPOLITO/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

British Columbia issues warning on U.S. protectionism Add to ...

The rising tide of protectionism in the United States threatens the Canadian economy and will hurt American consumers, says B.C. Finance Minister Mike de Jong.

“What’s often overlooked is that there are millions of Americans who rely upon trade with Canada for their jobs,” Mr. de Jong said Tuesday in his budget speech in Victoria. “Perhaps it’s time someone started pointing out the price they will pay – that small-town America will pay – if barriers are erected at our border.”

He did not mention U.S. President Donald Trump by name, but warned about the potential harm from anti-trade moves envisaged by the new administration.

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“Any interruption in trade will impact us,” Mr. de Jong said.

Mr. de Jong made the comments after tabling the B.C. Liberal government’s forecast for a fifth consecutive balanced budget. In the 2017-18 fiscal year, British Columbia is expected to post a $295-million surplus, helped by a diversified provincial economy that thrives on trade with the United States and Asia.

The B.C. Finance Minister pointed out that 54 per cent of British Columbia’s merchandise exports went to the United States last year, compared with 81 per cent of Ontario’s exports south of the border and 86 per cent of Alberta’s.

Last year, British Columbia’s international exports included sending 36 per cent of its goods to Asia, led by China (16 per cent) and Japan (10 per cent).

Since 2001, British Columbia has gradually shifted its attention to expanding trade with Asia, including China, Japan, Malaysia, India, Indonesia and the Philippines.

Sixteen years ago, the province saw 70 per cent of its merchandise exports go to the United States.

Despite robust trade today with Asia, Mr. de Jong noted that the United States remains British Columbia’s largest trading partner.

“Our successful efforts at diversification won’t completely insulate us from these protectionist tendencies, but they will certainly help,” Mr. de Jong said during his budget speech. “Promoting trade and investment is critical to growing our economy in B.C. and creating the jobs that British Columbians depend on.”

During a news conference, he said he is proud of British Columbia’s economic diversification but expressed concern about the “rising tide of protectionism,” with the prospect of increased U.S.-Canada trade barriers.

“We are still exposed. We should not kid ourselves,” Mr. de Jong said.

B.C. Premier Christy Clark recently announced the appointment of former federal cabinet minister David Emerson as the province’s special envoy to deal with the softwood-lumber dispute between Canada and the United States.

“The impacts of any trade actions taken by the U.S., including the imposition of countervailing and anti-dumping duties on Canadian softwood lumber, represent a key risk to the economic and fiscal projections,” according to a cautionary note in Tuesday’s budget documents.

Amid the headwinds on the trade front, the B.C. Economic Forecast Council said it expects the province’s gross domestic product to grow 2.3 per cent this year. That estimate is still healthy, though down from the 3.1-per-cent GDP growth rate last year, the 13-member council said.

The prospects for liquefied natural gas, trumpeted during the B.C. Liberal party’s election campaign in 2013, have been vastly scaled down.

The council still believes B.C. LNG exports to Asia will eventually occur, but “with varied expectations regarding the timing of projects and the extent of development.”

Pacific NorthWest LNG is mulling over whether to proceed with building an $11.4-billion liquefaction terminal on Lelu Island in northwestern British Columbia. One option is to relocate the marine docking facilities to waters off nearby Ridley Island.

“Several concepts have been brought forward, including thoughtful ideas proposed by the Coast Tsimshian and other First Nations in the area. These ideas warrant a closer look,” said Spencer Sproule, Pacific NorthWest LNG’s senior advisor of corporate affairs.

“We look forward to working with area First Nations and the local community to further refine and improve the overall design of our proposed world-scale LNG facility.”

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