Premier David Eby said concerns about security and changing environmental norms in Asia promise significant opportunities for B.C.
His comments come as he wraps up an extensive trade mission to Japan, South Korea and Singapore.
Counting early travels by Minister of State for Trade, Jagrup Brar, to Vietnam, the trade mission started May 25 and is scheduled to end June 7 when Eby returns home from Singapore. Brar, as well as cabinet colleagues Josie Osborne and Brenda Bailey joined Eby while he was travelling in Japan and South Korea.
This trade mission from B.C. coincided with growing tensions in the region, a point underscored in Singapore itself.
The city-state hosted an annual security conference June 2 to 4, featuring top diplomats from around the world, including the American foreign minister and the Chinese foreign minister. While Anthony Blinken and Qin Gang did not speak with each other, comments from Gang about the status of the democratically ruled island of Taiwan underscored the tensions in the region.
The U.S. and China are B.C.’s two most important trading partners and any conflict between them would very likely impact the province’s economy.
“It’s critically important that British Columbia’s economy be as insulated as possible from geopolitical events, while at the same time, remain open to the world and the only way to do that is through diversifying our trading partners and deepening trade relations with more than our two main trading partners, the United States and China,” Eby said in an interview from Singapore.
Eby said most British Columbians see the global uncertainty that currently exists with the war in Ukraine, as well as current relations between Canada and China, as well as the U.S. and China.
“(They) understand the need for us to deepen relationships with countries like Japan, (South) Korea and Singapore.”
Authorities in those countries are also aware of the advantages that B.C. offers, Eby said.
“It’s really apparent in my meetings in Japan and South Korea, that the governments there feel a huge level of urgency around energy security and it’s energy in all forms — LNG, hydrogen,” Eby said. “They are very anxious about ensuring that they have uninterrupted supplies of energy as well as critical minerals for meeting their manufacturing operations in these countries.”
Experts say the war in Ukraine has previewed potential energy price spikes in case of conflict between U.S. and China. China is also among the leading suppliers of critical minerals for the production of key technologies such electric vehicle batteries, giving that country’s authoritarian government leverage.
Eby also travelled to the densely-populated, fast-growing region to learn more about housing. While Eby had expressed interest about Singapore’s housing model before his departure, those expectations were partially left unfulfilled.
“Singapore was a place where I really thought we would get a lot of insights about housing,” he said. “It’s though a very unique city-state. The government has authority over every aspect of planning.”
At the same time, it has the financial leverage and financing tools of a nation-state, he said.
While Singapore holds some lesson for B.C., the real lessons are coming back home from Japan and South Korea.
“The insights around housing have come from really unusual places.”
In Japan, for example, Eby learned about a rental housing model from a company that already ranks among the largest buyers of wood from B.C. and is considering expansion to this side of the Pacific.
“So they partner with a landowner and build rental housing for the landowner and assist with financing to construct the building and then lease the building from the landowner for 30 years and then operate that rental housing,” Eby said. “Using that model, they have 1.2 million units under management in Tokyo and they are a very successful property management company.”
The B.C. delegation also met with Seoul’s housing authority, where officials are pursuing a model “very similar” to the BC Build initiative, Eby said, adding that provincial staff will connect with their South Korean counterparts to avoid mistakes and identify opportunities prior to rolling out the program at home.
Eby said the most important lesson of the trip was the realization that Asian companies currently investing in B.C.’s carbon-intensive industries like LNG are also going to be partners on clean energy initiatives.
They are as eager to move toward decarbonization as BC is, Eby said.
“They are going to be very likely our partner in critical mineral development, battery development, hydrogen development and clean tech development and that’s heartening,” he said.
“With our clean-energy framework, I was concerned that we might be heading in a different direction from our partners. But it’s pretty clear…that we are very much in step with the direction that they are going. In fact, there are significant business opportunities for us as we move together toward decarbonization.”