No doubt, Toronto is Canada’s economic powerhouse, with six million regional inhabitants, 40 per cent of the nation’s business headquarters and almost one fifth of Canada’s GDP. The region currently is also home to about 76,000 businesses, where $70 billion in goods and services are exported every year.
Good numbers indeed, but with the overwhelming majority of exports going south of the border to the US, the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), and all of Ontario for that matter, would do well to look further afield, and diversify to higher-growth markets like China, says the Toronto Region Board of Trade’s (TRBOT) new CEO, Jan De Silva.
If only four per cent of Canadian small businesses are exporting today, it’s even less so in the GTA, says De Silva. “We need to get these numbers higher. And while we would never do so at the exclusion of the United States, we do need to start diversifying more to higher-growth emerging markets.”
“I like to compare the GTA to Switzerland,” says De Silva. “It’s comparable with respect to population, but in this small country close to 70 per cent of its SMEs are exporting today. You could argue that most of these are going to the Eurozone, but the truth is about 20 per cent of these exports are going to emerging markets.”
“Simply put, we need to get more small- and medium-sized businesses onto the global stage,” says De Silva. “And there are huge opportunities out there. Just look at emerging Asia and especially China’s growth story over the past few decades,” she notes. “And there’s a lot more growth to come for another decade, particularly when it comes to infrastructure.
And De Silva knows China. Before taking over the reins of the Toronto Region Board of Trade, De Silva headed the Ivey Business School in Hong Kong since 2011, where she led the schools’ expansion in Asia. Prior to that, she spent a decade heading SunLife Financial’s business in Hong Kong and Mainland China, and then Retail CHINA, a private company that helped mid-market retail brands enter China. As a result she developed an extensive overseas network that will no doubt help the Board of Trade strengthen the local economy.
Asia’s shifting consumption patterns match Canadian niche expertise
“For the past decade, there have been lots of consumer goods going into China, like KFC and luxury goods,” adds De Silva. “But more recently, there’s been a shift to domestic consumption. China is saturated with ‘Made in China’ brands now.”
“But where we see opportunities for Ontarian companies today, are coming from the growing middle classes in Asia, who now want more “quality of life” elements such as education, better quality food products, healthcare and a clean environment.”
But nations like China, and much of Southeast Asia, simply can’t provide all these services internally, so these niche markets represent huge potential for Canadian expertise, particularly within the GTA.
Trade Accelerator Program GTA
To that effect, the TRBOT has begun plans to get more companies in the region going global, and are about to launch a multi-year Trade Accelerator Program (TAP GTA), a collaborative, export-activation and investment promotion program that will work with businesses, of all sizes, in the Toronto region.
Following on the heels of the Government’s Global Markets Action Plan (GMAP), the goal of TAP GTA is pretty simple: to help the region’s businesses, particularly SMEs, become export ready and activate trade activity with some of the world’s fastest growing markets.
Fueled by the rich variety of expertise offered by the Board’s largest member companies and Canada’s trade and investment promotion stakeholders, TAP GTA will provide a trade development platform for companies to build export plans and access partners who can help them move forward.
“At the end of the day, it’s about minimizing risk, says De Silva. “What we’re trying to do is get more SMEs in the region ready to export, and load them up with the resources, tools and knowledge to put their best foot forward and pursue trade opportunities.”
Toronto region businesses, government and trade service providers will come together at a full-day event to launch the Trade Accelerator Program on May 12. For more information, contact Adam Straker, 416-862-4547.