Cut Knife-Turtleford MLA Larry Doke was pleased with what transpired at the recent Pacific Northwest Economic Region (PNWER) summit in Saskatoon.
The 29th annual summit took place July 21-25, with over 500 legislators and business leaders from across the Northwest taking part. Those attending participated in 23 working group sessions.
The jurisdictions represented included Alberta, British Columbia, the Northwest Territories, Yukon, Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington, as well as the host province Saskatchewan.
Doke presided over the meetings as President of PNWER. He noted that one relevant topic was trade.
“It didn’t matter what guest speakers we had or wherever we went; everything came back to trade and the urgency to get the USMCA ratified,” said Doke. “We’ve got the tariffs off now and Mexico has signed, we’re just waiting for the US. And Canada won’t make a move until the U.S. has signed.”
He noted the U.S. Congress has adjourned and won’t be back until September. Canada itself will be in an election campaign with voting day on Oct. 21.
“We’re hoping everything comes together in September here. That seems to be the biggest factor right now.”
Doke was cautiously optimistic that Congress will get a deal done, and believes the Democrats in Congress will be onside when all is said and done.
“I think that Congress, the Democrats, possibly are supporting it, it’s just whether they’ll give President Trump the credit for it. This is where the politics come in now,” said Doke. He further explained Democratic legislators did not want to give Trump “any wins at all.”
Asia trade was another hot topic at the summit. A particular highlight Doke mentioned was a presentation Tuesday afternoon by guest speakers Murad Al-Katib, President/CEO of AGT Foods, and John Stackhouse, Senior Vice President of the Royal Bank of Canada, titled “Capturing Asian Markets”.
Al-Katib made the point that there was a great opportunity to market agricultural products from the Northwest to a growing middle class in Asia. "In ten years, our region will serve an agricultural consumer that is completely different than the consumer we serve today...It is about 'niche' on a large scale," Al-Katib told the audience.
Doke said that particular presentation “opened the eyes” of a lot of people in PNWER.
“Sometimes we get so focused on what we are doing with China and with each other, and we sort of forget about these other areas. But the Asian markets are way bigger than China. Way bigger.”
India and some other Asian countries had largely vegetarian diets, which meant opportunity to market lentils, peas and chickpeas to that area of the world. And while PNWER has been there, those markets are still mostly untouched.
“All the product that we grow here as far as lentils, peas and chickpeas – that’s who wants it.” He said Al-Katib’s presentation “put things into perspective.”
Related to that was PNWER’s concern about making sure the rail infrastructure is in place to get those agricultural products from the Northwest to the Asian market, particularly at the ports of Vancouver and Portland.
“Are these ports ready for the Asian market? We’ve got to get these products to port, and can they handle the volumes and then get it out,” said Doke.
The ports “seem to think they can,” he added, but “their eyes and ears were opened when Murad finished speaking, because when you start to talk about populations that big in a condensed area like that, I mean, that’s huge. India alone could buy everything that we produce. The whole works --- they could take it all. So it was very interesting.”
China has been in the news most recently over trade issues with the U.S. and with Canada. While there was some talk about trade with China, it did not come up quite as much at the PNWER summit, Doke said.
Largely, Doke said, “it’s kind of out of our hands.” He believes it will be up to the U.S. and Chinese governments to find a way to resolve things.
“I think at the end of the day, it’s got to be a deal between the U.S. and China and then things will settle down,” said Doke. He called it a “day to day” situation.
Doke himself has now wrapped up his one-year term as PNWER president. His presidency ended on the Wednesday of the summit, and Sen. Mike Cuffe, a member of the Montana state Senate, was sworn in as the new President.
As for PNWER initiatives for the coming year, at this point the priority is “status quo, get the USMCA ratified.” Doke pointed out new Pres. Cuffe is a Republican and a big supporter of President Donald Trump so “he’s not going to say anything to cause problems that way.”
The organization’s 23 working groups will have action items to work on, and the plan is for Cuffe to go on a tour of all the capitals of all the member states, provinces and territories, something Doke had done during his time in the office. There are also plans for Cuffe to go to Ottawa and to Washington D.C. as well.
Next year’s summit will be in Big Sky, Montana, and PNWER will be holding their winter meetings in Seattle in November. Doke plans to go to those meetings as he continues to be involved in PNWER as Past-President.