With a growing provincial debt lurking in the background, B.C. Finance Minister Mike de Jong is in India on a 10-day visit to drum up trade.
He was to lay out the welcome mat to trade at two new British Columbia trade and investment offices, one in Mumbai and one in Chandigarh in the Punjab.
De Jong said he planned to promote B.C. timber, aerospace, run of river technology and tourism, and to seek opportunities in the burgeoning economy of 1.2 billion people. He was also going on a 150-kilometre walking trek to raise awareness about diabetes.
“It’ll be highlighting and profiling opportunities in B.C. for investment and for partnership and work in the Indian marketplace,” de Jong said before he left.
The B.C. offices will be in the Canadian Consulate General venues in the two cities. The arrangement gives the province’s trade outreach representatives a base in India, and access to Canada federal government counterparts.
Mumbai is India’s financial capital and accounts for 40 per cent of all economic activity in that country.
Chandigarh is the capital of Punjab and Haryana states, an area that has a strong connection to B.C.’s Indo-Canadian community.
The University of the Fraser Valley, for example, offers business administration programs at the Sanatan Dharma College in Chandigarh.
“We have very strong cultural connections. Our challenge is to convert those cultural connections to economic connections,” said de Jong.
As finance minister, he aims to build on relationships he began in India in previous cabinet posts.
As B.C.’s forestry minister, he pushed to open trade to China when softwood lumber spats with the United States and its failing housing sector made it conducive to look to other markets as well.
“I’ve been a big proponent of diversifying trade. China is now our biggest [lumber] customer by volume,” and he’d like to see B.C.’s lumber go to India as well.
Economic opportunities also exist for Indian investors in B.C. aerospace, mineral development and energy development like run of the river technology.
“We’re selling investment opportunities. Run of the river would be particularly suited to northern India,” said de Jong.
He added that India, with a rapidly growing middle class, is traveling more but “we’re losing out on tourism dollars.”
“We need to be more aggressive in British Columbia to market tourism opportunities,” he said.
During his stay, de Jong is also fulfilling a more personal commitment he made while health minister to promote awareness of diabetes and hypertension. He planned to take five days to travel through Punjab from Amritsar to Chandigarh.
“It (the total distance) is about 220 kilometres. I’ll probably walk about 150 kilometres of it,” he said, covering about 30 to 35 kilometres a day.
The plan was to hold information sessions in selected towns and villages, and to hand out literature from the InterCultural Online Health Network along the way.
The information sessions will be conducted by Dr. Gulzar Cheema, a doctor and former B.C. Liberal cabinet minister who is joining de Jong on the walk. Like de Jong, Cheema is paying his own way.
- While in India, de Jong will present former City of Abbotsford mayor George Peary with a Queen’s Diamond Jubilee medal. A longtime school administrator, Peary and his wife Sylvia are in Chandigahr, where he is teaching in the UFV business administration program.