REGINA—Premier Brad Wall says Saskatchewan is looking to triple its exports to Asia by 2020 to keep in line with recommendations from a report released this week.
The Saskatchewan-Asia Advisory Council made 45 suggestions such as more Asian language studies in schools and increased recruitment of international post-secondary students from that continent.
“There are some pretty bold recommendations,” said Wall, who added that the province has already increased its role in Asian markets.
“Lest anyone doubt that this is possible, consider that between 2008 and 2012, Saskatchewan exports to China grew from $1.2 billion to $2.5 billion.”
The council, formed in May 2013 to provide advice on Saskatchewan’s trade with Asia, reports that Asian countries have the highest demand for provincial products.
It warns that Canada is lagging behind countries such as the United States, New Zealand and Australia.
Recommendation include the province creating project proposals for at least 10 major investment opportunities for Asian entrepreneurs to consider.
Council chairman Grant Kook, who is CEO of Westcap Mgt. Ltd., based in Saskatoon, said Asia is set to account for half of the world’s global domestic product by 2050.
He suggests Saskatchewan can reap the economic benefits by attracting Asian investment.
“There is a lack of urgency in national efforts to enhance and transform our Asian relationships,” Kook said. “We believe Saskatchewan can and should lead the nation in Asian engagement.”
The report says 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.
It recommends Mandarin language programs in schools, starting at the primary level, and calls for efforts to double Saskatchewan’s international post-secondary recruitment by 2020, with a focus on Asian students.
“We’re going to be careful about any major curriculum changes,” said Wall, who added that extracurricular programs are one possible option for increasing the presence of Mandarin at the grade-school level.
“This is the language of the economy and jobs and prosperity for the province as well.”
The province currently is seventh in Canada in terms of international student recruitment.
Kook would like to see that improved and also wants better retention of foreign students following their studies.
“As we expend those dollars, we need to be more efficient and retain them,” he said.
Saskatchewan’s immigration priorities also need to be refocused, said Kook, who suggested that export-driven entrepreneurs from Asia should make up five per cent of the Saskatchewan’s immigrant nominee program.
Wall said along with managing trade relationships, it’s essential to prioritize the logistics of the agricultural industry to keep the province internationally competitive.
Earlier this year, western Canadian farmers faced long delays to transport grain due to a railway bottleneck.
“We saw with the grain transportation backlog this last spring what happened. We lost Japan as a customer,” the premier said.
“If anybody needed to be shocked a little bit about the impact of logistics on our markets, they need look no further than that.”