Canadian exports to Asia are increasing, with resource-rich Western Canada far ahead of the battered manufacturing heartland further east.
A new analysis of more than a decade's worth of trade data show that the volume of shipped goods varies widely by province and sector. British Columbia's exports to Asia, for example, have nearly doubled between 2000 and 2013 from roughly 24 per cent of provincial exports to 44 per cent, or nearly half of all exports.
The growth of shipments from B.C. to the surging economies of East and Southeast Asia – at a value approaching $15-billion – are now nearly on par with the province's shipments south of the border to the United States, the historic destination for most of what Canada produces, according to a new website launched by the Vancouver-based Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, a non-profit that researches and promotes Canada's ties with Asia.
In Ontario, by contrast, 78 per cent of goods go to North America, but many other eastern provinces are also looking to Asia for new opportunities.
The group launched "The Asia Factor," a website that assembles provincial trade data in one place and makes it easy to compare provincial exports broken down by region, after realizing there wasn't an easy or effective way to analyze Canada's trade with Asia in close detail.
The project comes at a time when engagement with major Asian economies has tended to fall to the provinces, some of whom have opened up separate trade offices in key regions, as well as provincial trade delegations which promote distinct interests – from B.C. Premier Christy Clark's ongoing efforts on the province's liquefied natural gas projects to delegations from the Prairies intent on selling more grain to India and edible oil to China.
"I think you're seeing a huge shift – an explosion – of engagement by the provinces," says Eva Busza, vice-president of research at the Asia Pacific Foundation. "Even if you just look at the opening of the trade offices that the provinces are announcing. It started more at the federal level, and the provinces have become more and more engaged – and it's a function of the diversity of interests."
Shipments to Asia are also strong in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, although B.C., with its historic ties to China and Pacific coast, remains the major provincial economy with the largest share of its exports heading to Asia (Nunavut's share is 48 per cent, but total 2013 exports to Asia were just $4.5-million). B.C.'s exports consist mainly of wood, pulp and paper products, as well as metals and minerals. Roughly 20 per cent of Saskatchewan's exports – mainly agri-food products, chemicals and plastics – go east, while 19 per cent of Manitoba's total exports of agricultural products, metals and minerals head to Asia. Alberta, with much of its oil and gas heading south, exports only about 7 per cent of its total output to Asia, though it has opened up trade offices in New Delhi, Beijing, Seoul, Hong Kong, Taipei, Shanghai, Tokyo and Singapore.
Robert Simmons, the managing director of Alberta's Singapore trade office, said the four western provinces have a long history trading into China, but that historical efforts in North Asia – such as Japan, South Korea and China – has gradually evolved to include Southeast Asian nations and India.
"Certainly, the engagement of Canadian provinces with Asia has ramped up in the past few years. Particularly in the case of the four western provinces," Mr. Simmons says. "The accelerated interest on the part of Western Canadian provinces is about market access for energy products and attracting investment from Asia. The other sectors of interest include agri-food, as well as forestry products. People to people ties to Asia are also very important – in the case of the Philippines, China and India."
By the numbers
6 - Percentage of Ontario's total 2013 exports that went to Asia, versus 78 per cent heading to the U.S.
44 - Percentage of B.C.'s exports that went to Asia in 2013, compared to 46 per cent heading to the U.S.
88 - The percentage of Alberta exports that head to south of the border.
68 - The percentage of Alberta's economic immigrants that come from Asia, compared to about 3 per cent of economic migrants coming from the U.S.
$6.68-billion - Value of Saskatchewan's exports to Asia in 2013, compared to $2.37-billion in 2000.
$5.9-billion - Value of B.C. wood, pulp and paper exports to Asia in 2013.