Nova Scotia, one of Canada's three Maritime provinces, and known for its lobsters and berries, is ramping up its China engagement strategy with a ministerial-level visit to China in early September to expand trade and seek investment.
At the head of the mission will be Keith Colwell, minister of agriculture, fisheries and aquaculture, who comes from a farming background and said he's optimistic about doing business with China, especially in products like wild blueberries and lobsters.
"We are very excited about the Chinese market and looking forward to doing more business with our Chinese partners and companies there again, to talk about lobsters and marine products as we always do. Now we also talk about wild blueberries," Colwell, who is making his sixth trip to China next month, told China Daily.
China remains a relatively untapped market for the small economy of Nova Scotia. However, exports of live lobster from Nova Scotia to China have increased more than 20 times in the last several years.
Now there is more potential in store for its golden crop - wild blueberries - which have become a new favorite for consumers in China given their health benefits.
"We want to provide excellent high-quality wild blueberries," Colwell said. "We are educating suppliers and distributors, food service people and hotel chains in China about the health benefits of wild blueberries."
The wild blueberry industry is now a C$100 million business in Nova Scotia. Colwell said they hope to build on a long-term relationship with suppliers and customers in China over time, making high-quality products available on a consistent basis.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has pledged to improve bilateral relations with China, has advised Nova Scotia to further cultivate and develop the export of blueberry products to China.
"Right now, we are working with local producers, farmers and distributors in Oxford, including the local frozen foods company and other suppliers to help our partners build on the blueberries business in China which is a wonderful market," Colwell said.
Stressing the importance of long-term relationships with China, Colwell said trade missions and related promotional and investment activities would continue in the future.
"We would be offering some high-quality blueberry wine to the Chinese market and promoting pairings with chefs and again building relationships with Chinese customers and friends on the coming visit," he said.
Apart from ensuring high-end product quality, Colwell said the high tariffs are a challenge they are hoping to resolve.
"We are working with the federal government to get them reduce them over time. For example, our wild blueberries have a much greater health benefit and we have to highlight this to both sides to see if [the tariffs] can be reduced or eliminated."
On Chinese investments in Nova Scotia, whose agriculture and fishery products as well as education and tourism sectors enjoy a fair share of the Chinese market, Colwell said the province is always interested in investments and is excited to see Chinese investors coming to its shores.
Nova Scotia is working with a sea cucumber company owned by a Chinese investor to set up a processing and shipping operation in Nova Scotia. "We are very positive about this investment to us and the community and it will provide a really good product for the Chinese market," he said.
China, the fastest-growing market in the global economy, has become Nova Scotia's second-largest trading partner. The trade relationship is worth $420 million in exports, Colwell said.
"I am sure that our wild blueberry industry could be interested in developing opportunities with Chinese investors. I think it would be wise to invest in both Nova Scotia and China and to have a strong long-term relationship, because it is a very important market for Nova Scotia," Colwell said.