Fraser Forum

Nova Scotia’s ‘China’ strategy unnecessary and counterproductive

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If there ever was a need for a confused policy plan, Nova Scotia's Premier Stephen McNeil's "China Engagement Strategy," released on April 28 to the media and anyone else interested, has delivered.

The "strategy document," which comes after diplomatic missions to China in 2014 and 2015, purports to promote "mutually beneficial trade" and ensure "that goods and services are efficiently and seamlessly exchanged." Yet it makes no reference to the cessation of tariffs, quotas, or regulatory impediments—actions that would create a trade-friendly environment. The document without a byline also completely ignores the pending and extremely important topic of a free trade agreement with China at the federal level.

After a press release, strategy overview, and full strategy report, readers are left with zero information on the cost of the program, or any indication as to whether funds have been assigned to future activities of this project. Even the media spokesman, when contacted for further details, had no numbers to offer. Whatever the cost was for "consultation workshops" and authorship (and a Mandarin translation), let alone implementation, this opaque report testifies to taxpayer dollars wasted.

What makes this plan so unfortunate is that international trade is indeed pivotal to economic progress; Singapore's rise is indicative. The problem is that those behind this plan are central planners at heart, seeing themselves as initiators of trade, and appear to be clueless as to how to open the doors and let trade flow. The fact that they choose to focus solely on China and specific industries, as opposed to letting private parties choose from any number of markets, is itself indicative.

The authors put forward three almost impenetrable pillars for their strategy. One can, however, glean that these pillars have everything to do with intervention and nothing to do with natural private-sector trade.

Consider that provincial bureaucrats will attempt to align the Nova Scotia economy with China's Stalinist five-year economic plans, and will bend to the will of these known human rights abusers. Nova Scotia officials will also devote taxpayer dollars to and enjoy "diplomatic outreach”—in other words, swanky trips and cocktails with the Chinese Communist Party. Presumably, saving money and offering a lower tax burden than competing nations or provinces is irrelevant.

The authors' top-down mentality reaches its climax when they start to dish out advice on profitability to private businesses. "Market research is important," they write, "but personal relationships are essential to business success." Thanks, guys. Meanwhile, Nova Scotia ranks low for economic freedom among Canadian provinces, as ranked by the Fraser Institute's North America report.

The irony of this plan is that it wasn't necessary, just as China's five-year plans are unnecessary and counterproductive. Nova Scotia's trade with China has already been on the rise, as highlighted in the report. Rather than meddle with that healthy growth, provincial officials would do better to tighten their belts to boost competitiveness and push for a national free trade deal with China.

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