New ambassador sparks optimism

Farm groups say the appointment of Dominic Barton as Canada’s ambassador to China could finally mean action on trade issues between the two countries.

Barton chaired the Advisory Council on Economic Growth for federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau, which recognized agriculture as a key driver in the Canadian economy and one poised for growth.

That gives agricultural stakeholders hope that he will address the current market challenges, particularly with canola and meat exports to China.

Barton is an economist with extensive experience in Asia. From 2009-18 he was the global managing partner at consulting firm McKinsey & Company. He worked out of the company’s Shanghai office for a time.

“Given the importance and recent uncertainty of our trade relationship, it is crucial to have an experienced voice in China to stand up for our sector and help re-open the markets we count on,” said Grain Growers of Canada chair Jeff Nielsen.

He said the dispute has gone on far too long and Barton’s appointment should re-establish the relationship between the two countries.

Canola Council of Canada president Jim Everson said the council was happy that someone who is well-respected and knows the agriculture industry had been named to the top post in China.

“Mr. Barton has been clear on how agri-food is a key driver of Canadian growth,” he said in a statement. “We look forward to working with Mr. Barton to restore canola exports, which has been Canada’s No. 1 export to China until recently.”

The Canadian Federation of Agriculture expressed similar sentiments on Twitter.

Barton is currently the chair of Teck Resources and sits on the boards of several companies around the world, as well as the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada.

He is chancellor of the University of Waterloo, has a master’s of economics from Oxford University and has been awarded eight honourary doctorates.

In addition to his work for the Liberal government he was also a member of the advisory committee on the public service for Stephen Harper’s government.

In a news release issued by the federal government Barton said he was honoured by the appointment.

“The relationship between Canada and China is an important one, and I will work hard to represent our great country and to resolve the challenges that currently exist,” he said.

The Canada China Business Council praised Barton’s deep understanding of the goals and priorities of both countries.

“We are confident that Barton has the experience and knowledge to address the needs of Canadian companies in all sectors of the economy, particularly small- and medium-sized enterprises,” said president Graham Shantz.

The council surveyed businesses earlier this year and reported a negative impact from the bilateral tension between Canada and China. It has stressed a strong need for diplomacy.

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