Politics & Government
5:00 am
Mon March 26, 2012

Raleigh Canadian Trade Office May Close

The United States is home to 21 Canadian consular and trade offices. That doesn’t include the embassy in Washington, DC.  But budget talks are underway in Ottawa to trim that number.  And the casualties could be the smaller, satellite trade offices in cities like Raleigh.  North Carolina officials and business leaders are frowning at the idea of losing the Raleigh office at a time when federal and state governments are pushing to expand exports and create jobs. 

Leoneda Inge:  The CBC, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation was one of the first to put the rumor on the airwaves.  Prime Minister Stephen Harper wants to shift priorities and make cuts.  Here is reporter Greg Watson.

Greg Watson:  The Harper government wants to spend less promoting trade with the US and more developing new markets in Asia.   John Manly was Foreign Affairs Minister in the Cretien government and now represents big business.

John Manly:  Many of the US Consulates have been opened in the last ten years, in an attempt to really re-assert Canada’s presence in these markets.

In 2004, when a more liberal government was in power, Canada opened several satellite consulates or trade offices in the United States.  There were offices opened in Anchorage, Houston, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Diego and Raleigh.

Jean Davis:  Of course, we’re very upset about it. You know Canada is an amazing partner for us. It’s our number one trading partner.

Jean Davis heads International Trade for the North Carolina Department of Commerce.  She says latest numbers show North Carolina exports to Canada increased 15-percent last year – topping 6-point-three billion dollars.

Jean Davis:  And having them here in Raleigh, in North Carolina, has been one of the reasons that our relationship has stayed so strong, that there’s so much business headed to Canada and so many Canadian companies coming here to set up shop.

A lot of machinery, transportation equipment and chemicals travel north to Canada. And Canadian companies employ more than 10,000 North Carolinians. Davis says these business relationships didn’t happen by magic.

Jean Davis:  Because, of course, it’s human nature that you take your partners for granted sometimes.  And of course they are close to us, they speak the same language as us and so we assume that things are naturally are just going to happen. But it doesn’t really happen that way, it’s because there is a team of Canadians here in the consulate, my team out there, working on joint projects, setting up partnerships between Canada and NC, and that’s really been instrumental in building the strength that exists there.

The Canadian Business Association of North Carolina or C-BANC, is so concerned, they sent a letter to several government ministers back home to try to convince them to save the Raleigh office. Keith Donahue is vice-president of the organization and reads part of the letter.

Keith Donahue:  The city of Raleigh is well-known for innovation. The high value-added nature of employment in the Research Triangle Park, most PhD’s per capita of any North American city, combined with our strong global perspective that exists in this state are contributing factors in making the nominal investment in a satellite trade office a wise investment for the Canadian taxpayer.

Numbers reported from the Canadian Foreign Affairs Office say it costs $24-million-dollars a year to run the Canadian Embassy in Washington and $66-million-dollars to operate the other consulates across the U-S.  There’s also talk that Canadian diplomatic offices will be stream-lined in Europe and Africa as well.  Andrea Carska-Sheppard is an attorney at Smith, Moore, Leatherwood in Raleigh and specializes in International Business and Trade.  She practices law in Canada and in the US.  Carska-Sheppard is optimistic the Raleigh office will be spared.

Andrea Carska-Sheppard:  If you travel around the world, you go to Moscow, you go to Asia, everywhere, if people know about North Carolina they would know about Research Triangle Park.  And this is strategically a very important posting especially for a NAFTA country like Canada.

Canadian officials have said trade is the “life blood” of their economy. But when it comes down to it – across the board cuts could mean just that.   We’ll know more before summer.