Enterprise Minnesota Magazine - January 2013
HELPING MANUFACTURERS GROW PROFITABLY
4 Questions with Jamshed Merchant
Position: Canada’s Consul General in Minneapolis
Role: Educating U.S. business leaders and facilitating business connections to promote bilateral trade between Canada and the U.S. states of Minnesota, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska.
What is your mission in this new role as Consul General?
Much of the work that we do is helping to educate Americans about the shared Canada-America interest, so in my travels to the different states, my job is all about making connections and interacting with people. Because of the size of the trading relationship, anything that impacts Canadian interests impacts American interests as well. Minnesota sells more goods to Canada than to any other country, and nearly 180,000 Minnesota jobs depend on trade and investment in Canada. We can help educate the American public that are part of the policy process here and help get outcomes that are good for Minnesotans and Americans.
Of the five states that you oversee, Minnesota does more trade with Canada than the other four states combined. Why is that?
One part of it is that when you think of Minnesota, it’s the 16th largest state in terms of area, and the largest out of the five states. It also has the most populated metro area and a large number of Fortune 500 companies.
Another part is that according to a study I saw recently on innovation and entrepreneurship, you’ll find that Minnesota is among the top five states, beating out places like California and New York. There is a tremendous base here of hardworking and highly skilled people. In addition, the largest rail crossing between Canada and the U.S. is at the border of Ontario and Minnesota.
Canada is also a major energy supplier to Minnesota. About 10 percent of Minnesota’s electricity comes from hydro in Manitoba, and most of the petroleum products used in Minnesota come from Canada, too.
When your four-year term is over, how will you measure your success?
We’ll be looking at the extent to which we have helped to create a better understanding of the Canada-U.S. relationship on both sides of the border. We’ll also consider whether we’ve increased the number of companies trading. To that end, we’ll frequently line Company X from Canada up with Company Y from the U.S. so they can talk and explore potential partnership opportunities that would work to their mutual benefit.
Finally, we’ll consider ways in which we’ve helped to support the Canadian and U.S. governments’ Beyond the Border Action Plan to avoid or solve problems, at the border. For example, a company in Canada may have difficulty crossing the border for various reasons, and our initiatives aim to help them, facilitate trade, and track that success.
For Minnesota manufacturers who do not currently export to Canada but would like to start, what should they do first?
About $2 billion of trade happens between Canada and the U.S. every day. That’s about a million dollars a minute. For the experienced companies, the border is almost invisible. The shared Canada-U.S. goal is to make the border as thin and as invisible as possible for commerce, while still keeping the security considerations in place. We believe it’s easier for a new U.S. exporter to export to Canada than anywhere else in the world. It’s a more favorable climate, with clearer regulations. But for first-timers, it’s important to learn the process. It’s also helpful to ask questions of people who have done business in Canada before, either as a partner or a distributor. Then you can proceed with more knowledge.
For more information on Minnesota’s trade relationship with Canada, visit www.minneapolis.gc.ca
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