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Christy Clark's India Trade Mission Weighed Down By Puzzling Delegates

10/14/2014 02:26 EDT | Updated 12/14/2014 05:59 EST
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Despite the fall sitting of the legislature, Premier Christy Clark and two cabinet ministers are off selling B.C. in India and the Far East this week. And those two trade missions couldn't be more different.

Accompanied by 25 senior executives from the industry, Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Minister Steve Thomson is in China, Japan and South Korea with one objective: develop new markets for B.C.'s forestry products.

Premier Clark, on the other hand, is being accompanied to India by Advanced Education Minister Amrik Virk and a diverse group of 72 travelling companions from nearly a dozen different economic sectors, two countries, and two provinces.

Some of those sectors have sufficient numbers for some critical mass: education, LNG and the film industry. But there's also representation from the fashion industry, decorative stones, a port authority, a modelling agency, heavy equipment, a used car dealer, a travel firm and even a Tim Horton's franchisee.

One company -- Canadian Western Holdings Ltd. -- wouldn't have a single Google result to its name were it not for the news release from the premier's office last week announcing the delegation.

A handful of the companies don't have a website, some don't seem to have a listed phone number anywhere in Canada.

Among the delegation are a handful of multinationals who could hardly be considered homegrown. Supernatural B.C. doesn't spring to mind when you think of Colliers, Deloitte or KPMG. Each has extensive operations in India already.

Another company -- Affluence Capital -- operates out of a home-based office in Calgary. Pyramid Wine Exports is also Calgary-based, but does broker B.C. wines.

Three companies are actually headquartered in India and any connection with B.C. -- such as an office or telephone number -- isn't readily apparent from their websites.

Tata Elxsi's Visual Computing Labs is an animation and visual effects studio in India. It's part of the Tata Group, a $100 billion multinational based in Mumbai.

Another -- Bangalore-based Elexisoft Technologies -- describes itself as offering the "best software training and placement in evergreen technologies." Outsourcing firm Vestechno is based in Bangalore as well, but has an office in Michigan.

It does make one wonder though: why would companies headquartered in India join a trade mission with the B.C. government to, of all places, India?

In addition to the nine post-secondary institutions on the trip, a handful of research centres are among the delegation, including: IC-IMPACTS or the India-Canada Centre for Innovative Multidisciplinary Partnerships to Accelerate Community Transformation and Sustainability.

(I can understand why they went with the acronym.)

In the still selling the sizzle department, the LNG sector is well represented with Pacific Oil and Gas, Pacific Northwest LNG, and Huu-ay-aht First Nations that's hoping to develop a LNG facility with fellow traveller Steelhead LNG.

Godspeed to them. India currently buys LNG from Qatar, a distance of 2,885 kilometres, and Australia, a distance of 7,060 kilometres. The odometer to Squamish -- site of Pacific Oil and Gas's proposed Woodfibre LNG plant -- clicks in at about 11,800 kilometres.

And talk about your mixed messages. While Clark touts LNG as clean energy, she'll be pushing coal and oil too. Colonial Coal Corporation and East West Petroleum are among the delegation. East West Petroleum has exploration concessions in New Zealand, Romania, Morocco and India, but not one in B.C. It does have former federal cabinet minister Herb Dhaliwal on the board of directors though.

Here's another problem with the delegation: when most people think trade, they think widgets, companies that manufacture a good, or produce a service that can be sold to customers in other countries.

While importing is an integral part of any trading relationship, most British Columbians would expect the priority of a B.C. trade mission to be on exports, because exports create jobs here in B.C. And after all, British Columbians are picking up a chunk of the tab.

Yet, ethniK Yarns -- which imports hand-woven sarees from India -- is on the trip. Tough to imagine they're going to start hand weaving sarees in the Lower Mainland to export back to India anytime soon.

All of these factors contribute to the crux of the problem with this trip: just as too many cooks spoil the broth, too many industries and too many competing interests can spoil a trade mission.

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