Oh, Canada

January 27, 2011

Business

By Wally Northway

When Stephen Brereton speaks, Mississippians should listen, particularly business people.

Brereton is consulate general of Canada, the Magnolia State’s top trading partner. More than 67,000 Mississippians hold jobs due to Canadian trade, which is valued at approximately $1.5 billion. That’s a bunch of zeroes that are hard to ignore.

Brereton and aides Rob Pengelly and Kimberly King recently swung by the Mississippi Business Journal during a two-day tour to talk with state lawmakers and other elected officials, including Gov. Haley Barbour ad Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant.

On the top of their agenda was energy, a commodity not often considered when discussing international trade. In 2008, more than two times more electricity flowed south to the U.S. than went north to Canada, and something like seven times more natural gas came down from the Great White North than went up from the U.S. Canada exported nearly 2.5 million barrels of crude oil to the U.S. — not a drop came from us.

Brereton said one of the things his team was stressing on its trip is the role technology partnerships can play in insuring continued energy trade.

Perhaps the most important development in Mississippi concerning Canada is Interstate 69. Sometimes referred to as the “NAFTA Highway,” it will stretch from the Great Lakes region through the U.S. interior (crossing the Mississippi River north of Greenville in the Mississippi Delta) to the Mexican border.

Brereton said I-69 is not getting the buzz in Canada such as it is here in Mississippi, but it is still important. He pointed out that with more and more manufacturers going to just-in-time production, it is vital that transportation arteries are effective and efficient. It’s not enough for goods to simply move. They must move fast.

When asked how the economy has affected Canadian businesses, he said generally his country escaped the recession’s full wrath. One thing they had going for them is their banks didn’t melt down.

“We caught a cold, not pneumonia,” he said, but quickly added that Canada has felt the downturn, and the Canadian dollar moving closer to par with the U.S. dollar has hurt Canadian goods-makers.

Broadly, the Canadians were looking to strengthen the Mississippi-Canada relationship. Brereton said they had received a warm welcome in Mississippi, and that he believes Mississippi-Canada trade relations will grow.

For the sake of our economy, let’s hope he’s right.

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