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US-ally trade wars

Hong Kong-born Canadian small business minister Mary Ng eyes China opportunities as trade ties fray with United States

New minister of small business and export promotion is in Hong Kong to drum up support as Canadian firms seek to expand their Asian footprint

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 September, 2018, 6:03am
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 September, 2018, 8:50am

Canada aims to boost exports to mainland China and Hong Kong and woo investment from both markets for Canadian companies seeking to expand their Asian footprint as it navigates an uncertain future with its largest trading partner, the United States.

Beijing, Tianjin, Shenzhen and Hong Kong were the ports of call this week for Canada’s new Minister of Small Business and Export Promotion Mary Ng, on her first international trip after being appointed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet in July.

In Hong Kong on Friday she met Secretary for Innovation and Technology Nicholas Yang Wei-hsiung along with venture capitalists and business leaders including billionaire tycoon Li Ka-shing’s son Victor Li Tzar-kuoi, who recently took over the reins of the family business.

Ng, who was born in Hong Kong but migrated to Canada with her family 42 years ago, said her role was to help Canadian companies look for opportunities globally, especially in Asia.

“There are many customers here that I think will want Canadian goods and services and collaborations. So we’re very much interested in helping Canadian companies grow into these markets,” the 49-year-old said.

Canada and the US are locked in disagreement on revisions to the North American Free Trade Agreement. Signed 24 years ago, it tore down most trade barriers dividing both countries and Mexico. But US President Donald Trump has charged that the deal wiped out American factory jobs, and has vowed to negotiate a better one.

Ng said now was the time for Canada to diversify its export markets.

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“We’re hopeful we’ll have a good conclusion [to talks on revisions to Nafta]... but this is also an opportunity and the reason why I’m here,” she said.

Hong Kong is now Canada’s third largest market for exports of services, and its 13th largest for merchandise. Fruit, nuts, fish, seafood and other goods such as jewellery and computer and electronic products are among the top Canadian commodities that Hong Kong consumers enjoy.

The city is also an important source of foreign direct investment, pumping C$12.4 billion (US$9.6 billion) into the Canadian economy last year.

About 200 Canadian companies are based in Hong Kong, and the city is also home to some 300,000 Canadian citizens, one of the largest such communities abroad.

Ng said the Hong Kong investors she met on her trip were “very interested” in investing in home-grown companies looking to spread their wings in the region. Those with such ambitions were focusing on innovation and technology, agricultural products and clean technology, she said.

During her 40-minute meeting with the Post on Friday, Ng revealed her fondness for Hong Kong, a city she left as a seven-year-old but that she returns to once a year to meet family and friends.

“I just love the people ... the energy of Hong Kong,” she said, adding she enjoyed going to busy, noisy restaurants for meals.

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“Last night when we got here, I took my team out to a hustle and bustle restaurant and we had wonton mien [wonton noodles],” she said, laughing.

She credited the city’s “can-do work ethic” for shaping her life, recounting how her parents started a Chinese restaurant in Toronto, where she waited tables as a young girl before being dispatched to make food deliveries when she got her driver’s licence at the age of 16.

“Growing up in a small business, I learned the values of working pretty hard … that gave me the opportunity to learn a whole lot of skillsets and instilled in me a sense of hard work.”

About 5 per cent of Canada’s population, or more than 1.6 million people, are of Chinese descent, and the country remains a popular destination for Hongkongers to migrate to.

Official figures showed 1,561 people applied for permanent residency there last year, a 30 per cent jump from the year before.