Between January 21 and 27, Premier John Horgan met with trade officials from three of British Columbia’s major trade partners in China, Japan, and South Korea. This is the first international trade delegation being led by the new Premier, and he is accompanied by Jobs Minister, Bruce Ralston, and Minister of State for Trade, George Chow, while Tourism Minister, Lisa Beare, is joining for the China leg of the trip to prepare for the Canada-China year of tourism, which seeks to highlight Canadian tourism locations to Chinese residents.
The Premier has stated that the goal of the trip is to focus on investment in multiple sectors of the BC economy, but there’s only one question on everyone’s mind.
What will Asian investors do about BC liquefied natural gas?
Prior to the 2013 election, the BC Liberals staked their campaign on the promise of creating a liquefied natural gas industry in Northeast BC to export cleaner forms of carbon energy to Asia, which is actively seeking to transition to less carbon intensive forms of energy. At the time of the election and in the following years, a number of companies from Asia began exploring the possibility of creating the infrastructure needed for a liquefied natural gas industry, including the pipelines and expanded port facilities needed to ship the gas from the Peace River district across to Asia.
Thus far, no plants have been constructed and the dreams of creating an LNG industry in BC seem to be fading as other markets become better positioned to take advantage of Asia’s energy needs.
Leading up to the 2013 election, the NDP was critical of the idea of creating an LNG industry in the province and predicted that it would not come to fruition because of the low price for natural gas on the world market. Now that they are in government, New Democrats must contend with the fact that a natural gas industry would provide a significant number of well paid jobs in Northern British Columbia and could provide a boost to the regional economy.
Up against that is the concern the New Democrats have with the BC Green Party, whose support is necessary to continue governing under the confidence and supply agreement that was used to defeat the BC Liberals last year. BC Green Party Leader, Andrew Weaver, has stated that any attempt to create a liquefied natural gas industry in British Columbia by the New Democrats would be sufficient reason for he and his party to revoke support for the New Democrats, likely plunging the province into an unexpected and early election.
Press releases made by Premier Horgan during the trip appear to indicate that there was a positive exchange of ideas between the British Columbia delegation and their Asian hosts. The main piece of news came from South Korea, where the Premier announced a renewal of a three-year action plan promoting greater collaboration and integration of multiple sectors of the economy, including communications technology and agrifoods. This will increase the value and amount of exports from British Columbia and should provide additional relief for export companies in the wake of continued concerns over the NAFTA negotiations.
In following past practices of the BC Liberal government, the Premier took time during the trip to emphasize the importance of the province’s forestry industry. Recent years have shown an increasing willingness by Chinese firms to use wood products for building construction, and it is important to see the government continue its predecessor’s policy of expanding BC wood shipments to China for construction purposes.
The lack of significant progress towards investment in Northern BC industries was a disappointment, but with the new trans-pacific trade agreement being approved between Canada and other Pacific Rim countries, there remains ample opportunity for expanding trade with other international partners.