Thursday, March 08, 2007

Mark Wartman on Trade

Sometimes a journalist’s coverage of a news story provokes more questions than it provides answers. A recent report by Bruce Johnstone of the Leader Post is one such example. Mark Wartman, Minister of Agriculture and Food, had just returned from a two-week trade mission to China and Japan and Johnston reported on what Wartman learned over those two weeks.

To begin with, Wartman didn’t learn a lot more than he knew before he left on the trip. It seems apparent n Bruce Johnstone’s coverage of Wartman’s pilgrimage to the Asia-Pacific region that he covered what Wartman told him and nothing else. Primarily, that there are tremendous agricultural export opportunities for Saskatchewan in the region. That we need to increase our presence in the region and that we risk losing trade and investment opportunities to our competition like Alberta. That having a physical presence in countries that we want to trade with or do business with makes a difference. To this extent, Mark Wartman said, “”When you are out of sight, you are out of mind.” Wartman said, "the province needs to consider getting more people on the ground in Asia."

It was also reported that Wartman plans to hold meetings with Saskatchewan Trade and Export Partnership (STEP) and Saskatchewan Industry and Resources officials to find ways of increasing the province’s profile in the area. Minister Wartman apparently held some 60 meetings with government and business officials in China and Japan.

Here are some of the questions I would like to have asked to provide the public with a little more insight on the matter of international trade. Why did the NDP government close the trade office the Grant Devine conservative government had established in Hong Kong in 1990? It was an effective office run by a highly respected Saskatchewan citizen, but the NDP unceremoniously closed the office shortly after they returned to power in 1991. Wartman stated he wouldn’t do anything “extravagant” like establishing a trade office in China, notwithstanding Alberta has no less than seven trade officials working out of the Canadian Embassy in Beijing.

When did Mark Wartman discover that there are trade and business opportunities in the Asia-Pacific region? Why has his government not acted sooner to establish a presence for Saskatchewan in the region? Who did Wartman meet with over the reported 60 meetings? How long were these meetings on average, and what positive results, if any, came from these meetings? What does the Minister mean when he says we need to consider getting more people on the ground in Asia? How many people, at what cost and where will they be located and in what facilities? Does he mean simply sending government and industry officials to the region for two-week visits?

I am sure Mark Wartman and the government of Saskatchewan has a great plan to grow our trade in the Asia-Pacific region. It is needed to offset the trade deficits Canada has with their trading partners. The US is about the only trade partner where we have historically maintained a trade surplus.

Yes, Bruce Johnstone’s report on Mark Wartman’s two-week trade mission raised a lot of questions. Hopefully we will get the answers soon. Maybe the SaskParty will consider asking these questions in the spring session of the legislature and give Minister Wartman an opportunity to tell the whole story about his views on trade in the Asia-Pacific region. The public deserves to know and Bruce Johnston can report the whole story.