09/14/2011 12:52 EDT | Updated 01/12/2012 02:18 EST

Atlantic Canada should link with emerging economies, conference organizers say

HALIFAX - Atlantic Canada needs to do a better job of courting emerging economies in Asia and South America as its population ages, productivity lags, and the world copes with financial crises, say organizers of an economic conference planned for next month.

"We're at a structural changing point in the global economy," said Kevin Lynch, vice-chairman of BMO Financial Group.

"Increasingly the opportunities are going to be in places like Brazil, India and China. So, how do we make sure that five years from now we in Atlantic Canada have the capacity to do business in those economies?"

Lynch, a former clerk of the Privy Council, said the region's links to those areas are not well-developed and there is a growing demand to meet the needs of emerging middle classes in those countries.

"This is not about making a single sale but about developing long-term markets and that requires a different mindset."

George Cooper, a senior partner in the Halifax law firm of McInnes Cooper who is also organizing the conference, said he is hoping the event will help analyze Atlantic Canada's strengths and weaknesses.

"Canada as a country is a little behind the eight ball in terms of productivity and Atlantic Canada is lagging the rest of the country," Cooper said of the region of 2.3 million.

"What we're asking of the business folks who are out there is to help us create a balance sheet analysis of what we have in the region."

He said while some Atlantic business families like the Irvings and McCains have made their mark, not enough entrepreneurs are seeking opportunities in emerging world markets.

Invitations have been extended to all four provincial governments but organizers say the conference will be led by the private sector.

"It's not a question of excluding governments, but of phasing them into what it is we're trying to do," said Cooper. "At the end of the day there will need to be public policy actions if this stuff is all going to be successful."

The range of issues to be discussed at the conference will include identifying which emerging markets present the best opportunities, a topic that will be addressed by Canada's ambassadors to Russia, Brazil, Mexico and India.

Immigrant attraction and retention is also expected to be on the agenda.

The conference, called 4Front Atlantic, begins Oct. 7.