Feds em­bed trade staff in de­fence, oil groups

Regina Leader-Post - - News - LEE BERTHIAUME

OTTAWA — Cana­dian tax­pay­ers have been pay­ing to em­bed fed­eral trade com­mis­sion­ers into busi­ness groups rep­re­sent­ing the coun­try’s arms in­dus­try, petroleum firms, and au­to­mo­tive sec­tor.

The ar­range­ments, some of which go back to 2010, in­volve in­te­grat­ing the trade com­mis­sion­ers di­rectly into in­dus­try as­so­ci­a­tion of­fices and in­cor­po­rat­ing them into their “reg­u­lar op­er­a­tions,” ac­cord­ing to an agree­ment tem­plate pro­vided by the gov­ern­ment.

The gov­ern­ment and in­dus­try rep­re­sen­ta­tives say the setup pro­vides a valu­able link and bet­ter un­der­stand­ing be­tween the two sides as Cana­dian busi­nesses look for new op­por­tu­ni­ties amid in­creased com­pe­ti­tion abroad.

Cana­dian As­so­ci­a­tion of De­fence and Se­cu­rity In­dus­tries (CADSI) spokesman Brett Bour­deau said the trade com­mis­sioner em­bed­ded in his or­ga­ni­za­tion has played a key role con­nect­ing Cana­dian de­fence com­pa­nies to op­por­tu­ni­ties and con­tacts abroad.

“The of­fi­cial con­tin­ues play­ing a key role in a num­ber of on­go­ing ini­tia­tives,” Boudreau said, “in­clud­ing an up­com­ing mis­sion of Cana­dian com­pa­nies to NATO, and work­ing with Cana­dian trade of­fices around the world to wel­come for­eign del­e­ga­tions at im­por­tant Cana­dian de­fence and se­cu­rity trade shows.”

A For­eign Af­fairs spokes­woman said the idea has been so suc­cess­ful that ef­forts are un­der­way to ex­pand the num­ber of post­ings from four to be­tween 25 and 30 in “pri­or­ity sec­tors” as part of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s new trade strat­egy.

“Through close col­lab­o­ra­tion with Cana­dian com­pa­nies, in­clud­ing as­so­ci­a­tion mem­bers, the depart­ment can bet­ter un­der­stand the chal­lenges they face in do­ing busi­ness in­ter­na­tion­ally,” spokes­woman Caitlin Work­man said in an email.

In ad­di­tion to CADSI, trade com­mis­sion­ers have al­ready been posted to the Petroleum Ser­vices As­so­ci­a­tion of Canada; the Ven­ture Cap­i­tal and Pri­vate Eq­uity As­so­ci­a­tion; and the Au­to­mo­tive Parts Man­u­fac­tur­ers As­so­ci­a­tion.

But ques­tions abound, in­clud­ing whether some dis­tance isn’t prefer­able given many of th­ese trade groups also lobby gov­ern­ment on var­i­ous is­sues.

The trade of­fi­cials have been told not to pass them­selves off as em­ploy­ees of the or­ga­ni­za­tions with which they are work­ing.

And both sides are to “make ev­ery ef­fort” to avoid “real, po­ten­tial or ap­par­ent” con­flicts of in­ter­est, ac­cord­ing to the agree­ment tem­plate, which also ref­er­ences the pub­lic ser­vice val­ues and ethics code.

Boudreau said CADSI, which says about half of its mem­bers’ $12 bil­lion in an­nual rev­enues comes from for­eign sales, has in place “care­ful stric­tures” to pro­tect against a po­ten­tial con­flict of in­ter­est or any other ac­tiv­ity that would “un­der­mine the neu­tral­ity of the pub­lic ser­vice.” And while for­mer am­bas­sador Paul Hein­becker noted trade com­mis­sion­ers don’t set pol­icy, the agree­ment tem­plate says those work­ing with the in­dus­try as­so­ci­a­tions are ex­pected to “pro­vide ad­vice and sup­port as nec­es­sary” when it comes to such things as pre­par­ing brief­ing notes that could feed into the pol­icy process.

NDP trade critic Don Davies said he supports the need for Canada’s trade com­mis­sioner ser­vice and help­ing Cana­dian com­pa­nies suc­ceed abroad, but “em­bed­ding them within a trade as­so­ci­a­tion makes that ser­vice a lit­tle more opaque.”

“It cer­tainly is a con­cern. When­ever you em­bed any­thing and you take a gov­ern­ment ser­vice and you bury it within a pri­vate sec­tor or­ga­ni­za­tion, I think it’s rea­son­able to make sure that there is that rea­son­able ex­pec­ta­tion of ob­jec­tiv­ity.”

Lib­eral trade critic Marc Garneau said he supports the em­bed­ding of trade com­mis­sion­ers in in­dus­try as­so­ci­a­tions, but added that the gov­ern­ment and pub­lic ser­vice must re­main mind­ful of po­ten­tial con­flicts of in­ter­est.

By the same to­ken, “it’s im­por­tant for the tail not to wag the dog,” he said. “For­eign pol­icy must al­ways dom­i­nate. It can’t be trade at any cost.”

VA­LERIY MEL­NIKOV/Host Photo Agency

Fi­nance Min­is­ter of Saudi Ara­bia Ibrahim Ab­du­laziz Al-As­saf, left, and Prime Min­is­ter Stephen Harper. The fed­eral gov­ern­ment is post­ing trade com­mis­sion­ers into oil, au­to­mo­tive and de­fence in­dus­try groups to help boost in­ter­na­tional deals

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