11/06/2014 03:30 EST | Updated 01/06/2015 05:59 EST

Western Premiers Ask Feds For $1 Billion To Bolster Asia-Pacific Trade


REGINA - The premiers of Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia are asking Ottawa for more than $1 billion to support port and transportation infrastructure.

The three leaders met for two days as part of their New West Partnership and focused on the future of regional transportation in light of railway backlogs that plagued the Prairies earlier this year.

Western Canadian farmers harvested a record crop of grain, but couldn't easily get it to market because of a railway transportation bottleneck.

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall said all kinds of stakeholders came together to have a "frank discussion" on Wednesday and Thursday in Regina.

The current transportation system is "nearing its limit" and the delays this year were a wake-up call, Wall said.

"Japan, a long-standing customer for Canadian wheat, just said, 'We have to take a pause here. We need these shipments to be reliable,'" he said.

All three premiers spoke to the importance of increasing trade with Asia and improving infrastructure in the Asian-Pacific corridor.

"I begin from the premise that Canada is an Asia-Pacific country," Alberta Premier Jim Prentice said. "Our three provinces working together are essentially a powerhouse in the Asia-Pacific basin and it doesn't matter what commodity you wish to speak about."

He added that the provincial governments plan to prioritize environmental protection and partnerships with First Nations.

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark said 65 per cent of Canada's trade with Asia comes from the three provinces of the New West Partnership, which was created in 2010.

"We have everything that Asia needs," Clark said. "I would argue there is no more urgent economic need facing the country today than ensuring the Pacific gateway is functioning as fully as it can."

Wall has said that Saskatchewan is looking to triple its exports to Asia by 2020 to meet recommendations from a report released in September.

The Saskatchewan-Asia Advisory Council made suggestions such as more Asian language studies in schools and increased recruitment of international post-secondary students from that continent.

The report said Saskatchewan's trade in 2013 with Asia was at an all-time high of $6.6 billion in exports to major partners such as India, Indonesia, China and Japan.

Clark said the provinces are responsible for ensuring Asian markets have access to Canadian products.

"If they don't get Canadian wheat, Canadian lumber and Canadian energy products, there are lots of other places they can get (goods) around the world," she said.

Wall is planning a trade mission to India in November. He said he plans to tout Saskatchewan's expertise in food, fuel and fertilizer in an expanding market and attract foreign investments.


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