Jock Finlayson, Executive Vice President and Chief Policy Officer of the Business Council of British Columbia (submitted)

COLUMN: Getting a handle on B.C.’s export economy

Jock Finlayson is executive vice president and chief policy officer of the Business Council of BC

In a small jurisdiction like B.C., raising real incomes over time depends in large part on the ability to increase exports and stimulate the growth of export-capable industries.

Export industries provide many economic benefits, including by furnishing the income to enable us to pay for the vast array of imports we consume. In B.C., households and businesses rely entirely or mainly on imports to satisfy their needs for vehicles, pharmaceuticals, medical equipment, electronic products, clothing, many foodstuffs, and much else besides.

Export industries also make a disproportionate contribution to the economy by offering generally above-average wages and salaries.

Below, I briefly examine the province’s leading export industries, concentrating on those that produce tangible goods.

Last year, B.C. earned approximately $44 billion by selling goods to other countries. More than three-quarters of these exports consisted of natural resource-based products.

Forestry continues to occupy a central place in B.C.’s export portfolio, accounting for one-third of merchandise exports in 2017 (the last year for which detailed data are available). The top forestry exports are lumber and pulp and paper.

READ MORE: Log exports high on agenda for B.C. NDP and forest industry

Approximately one-quarter of B.C.’s exports in 2017 came from the energy sector, with coal and natural gas being the principal export commodities.

Metallic minerals comprise a little over 12 per cent of B.C.’s exports. Copper, aluminum and zinc are the province’s leading mining-related exports.

Machinery and equipment industries supplied 10.7 per cent of B.C.’s merchandise exports in 2017, up fractionally from 10 per cent in 2010. Electrical/electronic equipment, transportation equipment, motor vehicles and parts, and scientific and technical equipment are among the advanced manufacturing industries in which B.C. is home to exporting firms.

The “clean tech” products that many politicians are preoccupied with account for less than 1 per cent of B.C.’s exports.

Agriculture and seafood products make up 9.5 per cent of the province’s goods exports. B.C. has a substantial and diversified agri-food sector that ships a mix of agricultural and seafood products to markets around the world.

Smaller shares of the province’s merchandise exports are supplied by fabricated metals, chemicals, plastics, apparel and textiles, and a handful of industries that manufacture consumer goods.

The industries highlighted above will remain foundational to B.C.’s economy for the foreseeable future. How can public policy help them to thrive and grow?

The primary challenge is to create an environment that encourages companies, entrepreneurs and investors in export-oriented industries to allocate capital to improve business operations, acquire new equipment and technologies, and expand production capacity. Without new investment, industries are destined to stagnate, shrink or wither away.

This, in turn, requires that the province have broadly competitive taxes and fees for its main export-focused industries; establish efficient and timely regulatory and approval processes; ensure an ongoing supply of qualified labour backed by a high-quality education system; invest in infrastructure that supports trade (e.g., transportation, energy and communications infrastructure); and keep energy and other business input costs at reasonable levels.

Today, B.C. performs well in some of these areas but falls short in others. Escalating taxes and fees and costly regulatory systems are significant competitive disadvantages for a number of the province’s export industries.

Talent shortages and the sluggish pace at which many of our companies adopt innovative technologies are also making it harder for some exporters to succeed.

If policy-makers want to advance overall prosperity and encourage industrial growth that supports decent wages for workers, they need to focus more attention on strengthening the underpinnings of the province’s export economy.

Jock Finlayson is executive vice president and chief policy officer of the Business Council of British Columbia

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

City staff will report residents’ feedback to council before the shelter’s permit is decided at a special meeting Tues., Nov. 3. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Grand Forks’ city council seeking feedback on proposed winter shelter

Boundary Family Services hopes to have the proposed facility running starting Dec. 1

Brandon Kootnekoff stands at the “Zombie Bay” he lit up at his home near Sion Cemetery Wed., Oct. 21. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Grand Forks haunt enthusiast re-vamps Halloween display for pandemic

Brandon Kootnekoff said he wanted neighbours ‘to have something to look forward to this year’

test tube with the blood test is on the table next to the documents. Positive test for coronavirus covid-19. The concept of fighting a dangerous Chinese disease.
Interior Health records third COVID-19 death

A new community outbreak was reported at Okanagan Men’s Centre in Lake Country

NAV CANDA is considering closing its station at the West Kootenay Regional Airport. Photo: Betsy Kline
Nav Canada considering closing station at West Kootenay Regional Airport

The organization is conducting a service review at Castlegar’s airport

Grand Forks' Everett Baker filed his nomination at city hall Tuesday, Oct. 27. Facebook: Everett Baker
Baker files nomination ahead of Grand Forks byelection

The downtown business owner stands unopposed in bid to fill vacant council seat

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates the COVID-19 situation, B.C. legislature, Oct. 26, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count jumps by 287, another senior home outbreak

Two more deaths recorded, community outbreak in Okanagan

Commissioner Austin Cullen looks at documents before opening statements at the Cullen Commission of Inquiry into Money Laundering in British Columbia, in Vancouver on February 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
RCMP lacked dedicated team to investigate illegal activities at casino, inquiry hears

Hearings for the inquiry are set to continue into next week and the inquiry is expected to wrap up next year

Robert Riley Saunders. (File)
Court approves money for B.C. foster children alleging harm from Kelowna social worker

The maximum combined total award for basic payments and elevated damages for an individual is $250,000

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

An untitled Emily Carr painting of Finlayson Point was donated to the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria by brothers Ian and Andrew Burchett. The painting had been in their family for several decades. (Courtesy of the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria)
Never-before-seen painting by famed B.C. artist Emily Carr gifted to Victoria gallery

Painting among several donated to Art Gallery of Greater Victoria

The B.C. Centre for Disease control is telling people to keep an eye out for the poisonous death cap mushroom, which thrives in fall weather conditions. (Paul Kroeger/BCCDC)
Highly poisonous death cap mushroom discovered in Comox

This marks first discovery on Vancouver Island outside Greater Victoria area

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

100 Mile Conservation officer Joel Kline gingerly holds an injured but very much alive bald eagle after extracting him from a motorist’s minivan. (Photo submitted)
Rescued bald eagle that came to life in B.C. man’s car had lead poisoning

Bird is on medication and recovering in rehab centre

Janet Austin, lieutenant governor of B.C., was presented with the first poppy of the Royal Canadian Legion’s 2020 Poppy Campaign on Wednesday. (Kendra Crighton/News Staff)
PHOTOS: B.C. Lieutenant Governor receives first poppy to kick off 2020 campaign

Janet Austin ‘honour and a privileged’ to receive the poppy

Most Read