Jock Finlayson, Executive Vice President and Chief Policy Officer of the Business Council of British Columbia (submitted)

COLUMN: Getting a handle on B.C.’s export economy

Jock Finlayson is executive vice president and chief policy officer of the Business Council of BC

In a small jurisdiction like B.C., raising real incomes over time depends in large part on the ability to increase exports and stimulate the growth of export-capable industries.

Export industries provide many economic benefits, including by furnishing the income to enable us to pay for the vast array of imports we consume. In B.C., households and businesses rely entirely or mainly on imports to satisfy their needs for vehicles, pharmaceuticals, medical equipment, electronic products, clothing, many foodstuffs, and much else besides.

Export industries also make a disproportionate contribution to the economy by offering generally above-average wages and salaries.

Below, I briefly examine the province’s leading export industries, concentrating on those that produce tangible goods.

Last year, B.C. earned approximately $44 billion by selling goods to other countries. More than three-quarters of these exports consisted of natural resource-based products.

Forestry continues to occupy a central place in B.C.’s export portfolio, accounting for one-third of merchandise exports in 2017 (the last year for which detailed data are available). The top forestry exports are lumber and pulp and paper.

READ MORE: Log exports high on agenda for B.C. NDP and forest industry

Approximately one-quarter of B.C.’s exports in 2017 came from the energy sector, with coal and natural gas being the principal export commodities.

Metallic minerals comprise a little over 12 per cent of B.C.’s exports. Copper, aluminum and zinc are the province’s leading mining-related exports.

Machinery and equipment industries supplied 10.7 per cent of B.C.’s merchandise exports in 2017, up fractionally from 10 per cent in 2010. Electrical/electronic equipment, transportation equipment, motor vehicles and parts, and scientific and technical equipment are among the advanced manufacturing industries in which B.C. is home to exporting firms.

The “clean tech” products that many politicians are preoccupied with account for less than 1 per cent of B.C.’s exports.

Agriculture and seafood products make up 9.5 per cent of the province’s goods exports. B.C. has a substantial and diversified agri-food sector that ships a mix of agricultural and seafood products to markets around the world.

Smaller shares of the province’s merchandise exports are supplied by fabricated metals, chemicals, plastics, apparel and textiles, and a handful of industries that manufacture consumer goods.

The industries highlighted above will remain foundational to B.C.’s economy for the foreseeable future. How can public policy help them to thrive and grow?

The primary challenge is to create an environment that encourages companies, entrepreneurs and investors in export-oriented industries to allocate capital to improve business operations, acquire new equipment and technologies, and expand production capacity. Without new investment, industries are destined to stagnate, shrink or wither away.

This, in turn, requires that the province have broadly competitive taxes and fees for its main export-focused industries; establish efficient and timely regulatory and approval processes; ensure an ongoing supply of qualified labour backed by a high-quality education system; invest in infrastructure that supports trade (e.g., transportation, energy and communications infrastructure); and keep energy and other business input costs at reasonable levels.

Today, B.C. performs well in some of these areas but falls short in others. Escalating taxes and fees and costly regulatory systems are significant competitive disadvantages for a number of the province’s export industries.

Talent shortages and the sluggish pace at which many of our companies adopt innovative technologies are also making it harder for some exporters to succeed.

If policy-makers want to advance overall prosperity and encourage industrial growth that supports decent wages for workers, they need to focus more attention on strengthening the underpinnings of the province’s export economy.

Jock Finlayson is executive vice president and chief policy officer of the Business Council of British Columbia

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

Musings from surfers about surfboards

“I tried to make it so it was easy to get into waves and not too floaty so you could duck dive it.”

Tla-o-qui-aht board fish farms to obtain video footage of pens

Fish farms were boarded under the authority of the Tla-o-qui-aht Hereditary Chief Ray Seitcher.

Tofino Jazz Festival returns this weekend

“The Festival’s main mission is to provide an opportunity to build community through music.”

Tofino Hatchery wraps up successful season

“If you give those things half a chance, they will go to the ‘nth degree’ to get up those rivers.”

Tofino-Ucluelet Westerly News earns four national awards

The Westerly was announced as the recipient of four Canadian Community Newspaper Awards last week.

VIDEO: Rare white killer whale captured by drone near Campbell River

The transient orca has been named Tl’uk, a Coast Salish word that means ‘moon.’

B.C.-born Carey Price brings young fan to tears at NHL Awards banquet

Anderson Whitehead first met his hockey idol after his mother died of cancer

Licence issue delays boozing while cruising on BC Ferries

Planned June launch for alcohol sales delayed

Nanaimo a prime market for new plane, Air Canada says

Vice-president previews Airbus A220, praises Nanaimo’s growth in passenger numbers

B.C. school mourns after 13-year-old killed by fallen tree on field trip

Teenager died after being struck and pinned by tree while on a field trip near Sooke

RCMP deploys special unit in Comox Valley to combat organized crime

Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit spends four days targeting organized crime in Courtenay

B.C. temporarily halts resource development to protect caribou

The caribou population in northeastern B.C. has dwindled over the last two decades

Students disciplined after anti-LGBTQ signs posted in Kamloops high school

Vessy Mochikas, SD73’s principal for inclusive education, called incident a learning opportunity

‘The Fonz’ gives thumbs up in letter to dyslexic students at B.C. school

Students in Maple Ridge reached out to Henry Winkler after reading one his Zipster books.

Most Read