Thank you, Chair.
Good afternoon, members of the Commons committee on international trade. It's a pleasure to be invited to give some comments on the Canadian trade commissioner service.
Let me start by saying a few words about the Asia-Pacific Foundation and how we interact with the trade commissioners around the world. The Asia-Pacific Foundation of Canada is a think tank on Canada's relations with Asia. We were set up by an act of Parliament in 1984. We function as an arm's-length agency to help promote stronger ties between Canada and Asia. Much of the focus, but not exclusively, is on the economic relationship. Hence, we spend a lot of time thinking about how Canada can improve its trade, investment, and financial connections with Asian countries.
We connect with the trade commissioner service in two ways. We connect with them in Canada and in the field. Of course, in our case, we're talking specifically about Asian countries. In Canada, the work of the foundation is very much tied to the international trade offices that are situated across the country. Our mission to help Canadians better appreciate the importance of Asia for Canada's prosperity means that we work with clientele similar to those that the trade commissioner service works with.
This afternoon I'm heading to Saskatchewan, where we will be holding events in Saskatoon and Regina, meeting with the business community, civil society organizations, and educators to talk about why Asia is vital to Saskatchewan's future. The province knows that already, and many businesses are looking to Asia for economic opportunities, but there will be some in the room who are not as familiar, and not yet selling to Asia. This is the clientele that is of great interest to the trade commissioner service.
In many respects we provide a feeder service to the trade commissioners through the regional trade offices across Canada. We also work with the trade commissioners in the field. In that situation, typically we go to them for their ideas and advice on market intelligence and economic prospects for whichever economy we are looking at. We also go to them for advice on key contacts in different sectors.
I should stress, though, that the foundation is not an industry organization and we're not a consulting firm. We don't charge for our services on a commercial basis, and we don't work on the nitty-gritty of marketing and sales. We are very much involved in the broader issue of Canada-Asia policy development, particularly on economic issues.
I have found the trade commissioners in the field to be a very good source of intelligence, knowledge, and a feel for the pulse of what's happening. That information helps us at the foundation to do our research, to come up with ideas on the Canada-Asia economic relationship, and to give advice on policy, strategy, and economic relations more broadly.
Let me conclude quickly with my impressions of the Canadian trade commissioner service, underscoring that our connection with the trade commissioners, as I've explained, is perhaps one step removed from the front-line work that they do. We're not direct clients of the trade commissioners; rather we are partners and interlocutors.
In my many dealings with trade commissioners throughout Asia and in Canada, I found them to be extremely professional. I think they provide very high-quality advice to their clients. I've met many businesses that would share this sentiment and would give credit to the trade commissioner service for the business they have developed in various markets.
I particularly like the modernization of the trade commissioner service that I've seen in recent years. First of all, the focus on sectors, so that they are not too dispersed in their activities, requires some degree of judgment and selection, but I think it's a useful way to try to focus their efforts and to try to target winners, if you will, in the Canadian export scene.
I'm also impressed by the attempt to broaden their range of outreach mechanisms, particularly the use of the world wide web. I am a subscriber to some of their products. The virtual trade commissioner service, I think, is a good product. It requires constant updating, and they seem to do that pretty well. The various market sector reports or industry sector reports—I have not looked at all of them, but the few I've looked at seem to be quite high quality.
So if I could sum up, the trade commissioner service as a partner for the foundation, as a source of intelligence and information, and as a downstream provider of services for the people we work with, I think is excellent value for the Canadian public. Trade commissioners are particularly helpful to the small and medium-sized enterprise community. I wish them well.
Thank you. Those are my very brief comments. I look forward to the discussion with the committee.