OTTAWA — One of Canada’s newest cabinet ministers is tasked with making progress on a long-running challenge: encouraging more businesses to chase opportunities beyond the comforts of North America.
Adding to the pressure, Mary Ng, named to the Trudeau cabinet in July, is taking on the role as minister of small business and export promotion at a deeply uncertain time for the critical Canada-U.S. trading relationship.
Industry leaders say there is a growing urgency to help Canadian businesses find overseas markets, pointing to the unknown future of the North American Free Trade Agreement, a cross-border tariff dispute and threats by U.S. President Donald Trump of more American duties on the important automotive sector.
“The U.S. is an important trading partner — they will always and continue to be an important trading partner — but looking beyond to other markets for Canadian businesses is the right thing to do and it’s an opportunity,” Ng, a Toronto-area MP who worked in the public sector for 20 years, said in an interview.
“I always think it’s good to diversify.”
Ng’s small business portfolio comes with an additional responsibility and title compared to her predecessor — export promotion.
She is one of three federal ministers focused on trade. International Trade Diversification Minister Jim Carr and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, who is leading NAFTA negotiations, round out the trade trio.
Ng’s focus will be spreading the word to companies about overseas markets and directing businesses to government services designed to help them take advantage of numerous trade deals Canada has struck in recent years.
“(Carr)’s the one who’s going to open the door and I’m here to help our companies, our SMEs, walk through that door,” she said.
The treaties include recent agreements with the Pacific Rim — known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership or CPTPP — and Canada’s free-trade deal with the European Union, also known as CETA.
The Asia-Pacific and EU deals will open up access to a billion potential customers, but getting small businesses to explore those markets won’t be easy. Only about 11 or 12 per cent of smaller Canadian firms are currently exporting their goods or services abroad, she said.
“We have a low number of SMEs that are exporting right now,” said Ng, who worked in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office before winning a 2017 byelection.
“We need to do better.”
She said she knows from her own experience that small business owners are often too busy running their …read more