Horgan plans mission to China as first foreign visit as new premier, official says

B.C. premier John Horgan's plans may offer the first hints of the NDP-Green government's Asia-Pacific strategy

A senior provincial official said Friday that B.C. premier John Horgan plans to visit China as his first foreign visit in his new post.

In what may be the first hint of B.C.’s Asia-Pacific trade strategy under the new NDP-Green minority government, a senior provincial official said Friday that premier John Horgan plans to visit China as his first foreign visit in his new post.

During the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) in Vancouver between the Canada China Business Council and China’s southeastern Jiangsu province, Brian Krieger, B.C.’s acting assistant deputy minister for the newly re-named Ministry of Jobs, Trade and Technology, told the gathering of Horgan’s commitment to strengthening trade and investment with China.

“Our province has organized many missions to China in recent years,” Krieger said at the event. “I understand that the new premier is anxious to take a trip to China as his first outbound mission… and we’ll be working on that very soon, I’m quite sure.”

Krieger said the mission will not happen before September and will likely come sometime after the next sitting of the B.C. Legislature, which - according to the legislative calendar as of July 21 - is scheduled to last from October 2 to November 30. He declined further comment to additional details.

The provincial government under former premier Christy Clark sent several high-profile trade missions to Asia in general and China in particular. Official ministry data shows that the previous Liberal government sent nine minister-led trade missions to various Asian countries since Clark took power in 2011.

China (and the Chinese-administered region of Hong Kong) was a particularly popular destination, making an almost-annual appearance on the mission itinerary list. Clark herself led delegations in 2011, 2013, 2014 and 2015; former international trade minister Teresa Wat led two additional missions to the world’s second-largest economy, one each in 2014 and 2015.

A spokesperson with the Jobs, Trade & Technology Ministry said Krieger was referencing Horgan's earlier comments about wanting to visit China as soon as possible to develop Asia-Pacific trade, and no firm itinerary has been developed. Officials added that former NDP premiers like Dave Barrett and Mike Harcourt have also led delegations to China, and Horgan is planning to follow those examples.

The CCBC-Jiangsu province meeting gave additional hints of what directions the NDP government may plan to grow its trade with China. Krieger mentioned resources only once, in passing, during his five-minute speech. However, he singled out clean technology, green building construction, ICT (information/communications technology), digital animation and life sciences as five areas of focus. Every single sector mentioned involved technological fields that produce minimal or reduced environmental and carbon footprints. Those mentions were not a coincidence, Krieger said.

“I think [the ministry’s new name] is a perfect alignment for the work that with do with our friends from China,” he noted during the speech. “We’ve had a number of meetings internally, and I can tell you that this government is committed to promoting B.C.’s advantages and attracting foreign direct investments… I think being here today is a very important part of that process, and it’s a great start.”

China is B.C.’s second-largest trading partner, with statistics showing 18.4% of provincial commodity exports (valued at $6.2 billion) going to the Chinese market. Currently, forestry, mining, international education, technology and agrifoods are the main areas of trade.