BY BILL PHILLIPS
We need to get past our internal differences if we want to market our resources effectively in Asia, says former MLA Ben Stewart.
“One of the things that we have to do a better job on, is our brand,” he said. “Our brand is not just British Columbia, it’s Canada … We fight among ourselves. We are polarized in that we need to protect our brand that’s a local brand. It’s an important feature for selling into the domestic market. But over there, the market is between countries.”
He knows what he’s talking about. For three-and-a-half years he was B.C.’s Special Representative in Asia. His job was to help British Columbia’s government-to-government and business-to-business relationships in Asia.
Speaking specifically about getting B.C. wood to Asia, Stewart said there certainly has been success, however, British Columbia needs to look at new ways to do business and develop new products to send to Asia.
“Because of the competitiveness and the fact there is a lot of utilization of different of wood species, whether it’s furniture, whether it’s musical instruments, or whether it’s home building, we need to be flexible,” he said.
“Our inflexibility is going to hurt us. I know we have huge efficiencies in terms of our mills, the way that we harvest, but it’s the whole fibre basket. That’s what the citizens of British Columbia have an investment in. They own that fibre and they want to make certain every possible molecule is utilized.”
He urged the forest industry to make more than just one trip a year to Asia to look for markets.
He said China has mandated an increase in the use of pre-manufactured wood products by 15 to 30 per cent, which includes cross-laminated timber buildings.
“We need to make certain we’re doing more to help innovate and maintain our edge in the marketplace,” he said. “The opportunities remain for cross-laminated buildings.”
But it’s not just building materials.
“Why don’t we manufacture for IKEA?,” he said. “I don’t know that, but I do know the Chinese, with our lumber, are manufacturing for IKEA. The forest sector has unbelievable potential. We just have to keep working on it together.”
The other big export to Asia, of course, is liquefied natural gas. And while the industry in British Columbia might not be where some would like it to be, it’s coming, says Stewart.
“LNG is needed in Asia, there are no if, ands, or buts about it,” he said. “Beijing mandated to reduce coal consumption by 30 per cent.”
In addition, it is taking some of its most polluting vehicles off the roads and is closing factories that pollute.
The Chinese, he said, are building receiving terminals for liquefied natural gas and pipelines are being built from Russia. However, he said, pipelines are expensive and if the Chinese can import LNG from elsewhere, they will.
“We have a reliability of resource that is the cleanest fossil fuel on the planet,” he said.
“I believe it is going to come to pass.”
This story was originally published in NewNorthBC magazine. Read the entire issue below.