Saskatoon joins trade network

Shared climate and agricultural-based economies have the two World Trade Centre cities of Saskatoon and Harbin, China, focused on building a trading partnership.

World Trade Centre Saskatoon recently signed a global agreement that will see agricultural co-operation with the WTC global network.

The agreement included more than three dozen cities, which signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on agriculture in Amsterdam in April.

Spearheaded by WTC Harbin, the MOU will see collaboration on agricultural trade issues between licensee members — specifically Saskatoon and Harbin.

Harbin, with a population of 10 million, is located in Heilongjiang province in northeastern China. It is in what is known as the China-Russia-Mongolia Economic Corridor and is the country’s largest agricultural producer.

Saskatchewan and Heilongjiang share similar latitude with similar agricultural environments.

“The two areas actually share a lot of the (same) weather conditions, and the agricultural assets are pretty similar,” said Steven Lo, executive director of WTC Harbin.

“That’s why we reached out to Saskatoon about one and a half years ago…. It makes sense for the companies in the two areas to communicate on trade with each other, especially in farming.”

Heilongjiang is China’s major grain producing area and commodity grain base. The five major agribusiness industries include grain production, animal husbandry, green food, agricultural products processing and the development of mountain specialties. Major crops include rice, wheat, soybeans, corn, potatoes and lentils.

Lo said that while the area is China’s largest producer in terms of tonnage, value-wise it is lacking.

“With stable food like rice we are producing just a little bit over a one to one ratio of production to consumption,” he said.

“Our rice quality is very good and we’re exporting it to other provinces, but we need to produce more because a little bit over a one to one ratio is not good.”

The desire to increase crop development and agri-food process capabilities in Harbin motivated Lo and his WTC delegation to attend the Crop Production Show in Saskatoon this past winter, where they were particularly impressed with the scale of equipment and prairie productivity.

“We are not so much interested in (importing) the crops as to the methods, the technology and the equipment,” he said.

“We understand there are several farm machinery manufacturers in Saskatoon.”

Last year Saskatoon became the latest city to join the WTC network of more than 320 World Trade Centres in about 100 countries.

Canada now has seven cities that hold WTC licenses, which in Saskatoon is held by Canwest CLC.

It said in a statement that all WTCs are devoted to stimulating trade and investment opportunities for internationally focused businesses and organizations looking to connect globally and prosper locally.

“The markets represented by the additional WTC signatories are significant and will further agricultural research and business development, including foreign direct investment throughout the world,” said Canwest president John Williams.

Saskatoon’s WTC membership provides instant recognition, said Don Atchinson, who is on the World Trade Centre member advisory council for agriculture.

The former Saskatoon mayor said the agreement is of significant importance to Saskatchewan’s agriculture industry.

“The agricultural community that we have here would love to be able to do far more processing and exporting of their products, and this will certainly give us that opportunity to touch other world trade centres that may have an opportunity on their end to either distribute it or to sell it, whatever the case might be,” he said.

“Ours is more of a facilitator role…. WTCs are here also to help diversify the economy. It will help us with international partnerships that can help drive innovation.”

Mutual interest in the development of agricultural innovation, including food research and commercialization, recently led to a memorandum of understanding between Ag-West Bio and the WTCs in Saskatoon and Harbin.

As Saskatchewan’s bioscience industry association and a member of the Protein Industries Canada supercluster, Ag-West Bio creates local and global connections and supports the growth of bio-based business in the province.

“We will be discussing potential research where both areas might benefit, especially in areas like plant genetics and sustainable crop production, where we have significant capacity,” said Wilf Keller, chief executive officer of Ag-West Bio.

“Farmers would benefit if this results in better crops and better livestock feeds. And of course, if we can increase trade to China, it would mean a bigger market for our farmers’ products.”

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