CTR EXCLUSIVE: The California – Canada Connection
Insights and observations on the unique ''internestic'' relationship between the US and California and Canada
SAN FRANCISCO - 06/16/04 - What America has to offer the world "is produced and crated in California…Tom Friedman of the New York Times actually comes all the way out here once a quarter because he's said that the future starts here and he's right."
A fairly broad-reaching statement that could easily be discarded as standard Chamber of Commerce hype.
But consider the source. The above is the essence of the experiences and observations of a man who has served the past four years as his country's "ambassador" to the world's sixth largest economy.
"Living and working in California," said Colin Robertson, Consul General of Canada in Los Angeles, "has given me a preview of the future."
Robertson - a bulwark of the Los Angeles Consular Corps since he assumed the post of Consul General in 2000 - will be leaving his post in California at summer's end to head a new public policy and legislative Secretariat at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, DC.
He spoke about his impressions of California and his aspirations for his new assignment during an exclusive interview with the CalTrade Report at the recent BIO 2004 conference in San Francisco.
According to Robertson, the newly created Secretariat is "unique in that no other government has ever set up an entity within its embassy to communicate directly to Congress."
Traditionally, governments deal directly with the executive branch through the State Department or other government agencies.
The new Secretariat," he said, "will further Canadian interests in Washington and, at the same time, educate Congress member-by-member as to the critical importance of the relationship between our two countries."
The relationship between the US and Canada isn't international, nor is it domestic, he said. "I call it 'internestic' because it's a unique combination of both. Right now, the US and Canada trade roughly $1 million worth of goods every minute and California is the lynchpin to all this. The trade figures show it," he said.
Currently 39 US states rank Canada as their primary export market and California tops the list, according to the US Department of Commerce.
In 2002, California and Canada traded over $23 billion worth of goods, up substantially from the $11.8 billion in trade registered in 1998.
Telecommunications sales alone were valued at $2.3 billion, while computer sales worth $1.2 billion accounted for a full 16% of the state's exports to Canada.
That year Canadians consumed more than $1.6 billion worth of California-grown agricultural products with almost 900,000 Canadians tourists spending in excess of $540 million in the Golden State. In return, Californians made almost 1 million visits to Canada, spending nearly $500 million.
Underscoring Robertson's assessment was the recent announcement that the Premiers of both British Columbia and Manitoba have scheduled discussions with California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger at the June 20-22 Western Governors Conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico to discuss ways to increase trade and investment ties between their respective provinces and California.
Two-way trade, Robertson - a graduate of the University of Manitoba and a career foreign service officer - says "is absolutely crucial to the economic well-being of the US and Canada, particularly California and Canada and everything that can be done should be done to pro-actively head-off trade disputes before they become major issues."
Alluding to the recent decision by the Commerce Department to recommend the cutting by half of the current duties on Canadian softwood lumber exports to the US by the end of the year, Robertson said the issue was allowed to fester mainly because of a lack of understanding on Capitol Hill as to the critical importance of the $5.6 billion in Canadian lumber exports on both sides of the border.
"The realities are stark," he said. "The essence of trade is supplying a market with a product in sufficient quantity and quality that the market can't supply for itself. Canada is largely arborial with vast expanses of softwood lumber available; the US is not. This allows Canadian lumber companies to supply more than a third of all the softwood lumber used in construction in the US at an attractive price."
This is of particular importance in California where contractors are on track to build 200,000 homes by the end of the year, the most since 1989, with each using-up an average of $40,000 worth of wood.
"The new Secretariat will play an essential role in preventing these kinds of disputes from achieving the outlandish proportions that the lumber issue reached," he said.
One of the first projects that Robertson - who will report directly to both Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin in Ottawa and Ambassador Michael Kergin - will oversee in his new position will be a survey of every US Congressional district to define exactly how dependent they are on trade and investment with Canada.
"Right now, more than 110,000 jobs in California, for example, are directly or indirectly related to business with Canada. This is quite significant, but the California Congressional delegation is almost totally unaware of what that means in a more focused sense," he said.
"We need to clearly define the different levels of our relationship and be able to tell each member of the House and Senate in Washington just how important the US-Canada relationship is to their respective districts. The awareness just isn't there."
In addition to the creation of the new Secretariat, the overall plan to increase that "awareness" at a more "local" level includes "enhancing the Canadian presence in the US by increasing the number of representative offices in the US," Robertson said, adding that all of Canada's provinces and territories have been invited to assign staff to any one of the consulates "to add their expertise and influence to Canada's message."
As well as its Embassy in Washington, Canada has 12 Consulates General located throughout the continental US - Atlanta, Boston, Buffalo, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis, New York, and Seattle - as well as Consulates in Houston, Raleigh, and San Diego.
The consulate in San Francisco, Robertson said, will be elevated to full Consulate General status by the end of the year to "even out" and make more manageable the region that Robertson was responsible for which included not only California, but Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and Oregon, as well.
By this fall, Canada will open additional consulates in Anchorage, Philadelphia, and Phoenix, bringing its representation in the US to 22 offices. Trade offices are also located in Northern California's San Jose/Silicon Valley region and Princeton, New Jersey.
"These offices will expand their operations to act as our eyes and ears on trade issues and communicate opportunities at a local level," Robertson said, adding that, while much needs to be done in Washington, leaving California will be a "bittersweet" experience."
"All of the contacts I've been privileged to make and all of the experiences I've had have made a tremendous impression on me," Robertson said. "Of all the places I've served, California has by far made the most impression on me. California has been my home for the past four years and it will always be a part of me. My family and I will miss it hugely."
[This story is the first of a two-part series on the California-Canada trade connection. Part 2 will present an overview of Canadian participation in the recent BIO 2004 conference and exposition in San Francisco and plans by the public and private sectors to enhance the biotechnology links between Canada and California ]
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