canadian delegation greer visit

Upstate business leaders look to strengthen ties with Canada

A direct flight between Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport and Canada is just one thing Upstate business leaders would like to see as they seek to strengthen ties with the country’s neighbor to the north.

Louise Blais, consul general of Canada, and David Wilkins, former U.S. ambassador to Canada, made a stop in Greer Friday for a luncheon at City Hall hosted by the Greer Development Corp., S.C. Ports Authority and GSP.

The leaders shed some light on the $6.5 billion annual trade relationship between Canada and South Carolina, which boasts 70 Canadian companies with about 8,000 employees, Wilkins said.

“The world is becoming more competitive, particularly with Europe and Asia on the rise,” he said. “If we don’t have our own North American story right, we could lose out on some opportunities.”

According to data presented at the meeting, trade and investment with Canada supports 165,300 jobs in the Palmetto State.

Canada is South Carolina’s third-largest export market, worth $3.7 billion in 2015.

Automobiles were the state’s largest export to the country last year, worth $604 million. South Carolina also exported $468 million in rubber and rubber articles, $256 million in car parts, $168 million in plastics and plastic articles and $126 million in aircraft.

The state imported $2.8 billion in goods from Canada last year. It imported $425 million in rubber and rubber articles, $248 million in organic chemicals, $209 million in aircraft parts, $170 million in car parts and $144 million in fiber and woven goods.

South Carolina’s services exports to Canada were worth $534 million, including $285 million for travel; $82 million for business, professional and technical services; $47 million for royalties and license fees; $37 million for transportation services; and $33 million for equipment installation, maintenance and repair.

“I want Canada to reinvigorate its relationship with the U.S.,” Blais said. “We can take each other for granted. That relationship, as wonderful as it is, still needs to be nurtured.”

Blais said the North American Free Trade Agreement, better known as NAFTA, has had a positive impact on Canada. She said the country’s gross domestic product, or GDP, growth has tripled since the agreement took effect in 1994.

She said after the presidential election in November, it will be important for both the U.S. and Canada to work together to face global economic challenges and to fight climate change.

“(The relationship between the U.S. and Canada) is good, but it can still grow.”

During Friday’s event, Dave Edwards, president and CEO of GSP, said the airport plans to meet this week with officials from Air Canada to see about adding direct, non-stop service between GSP and Canada.

“We certainly feel that the strong connection between the Upstate and Canada would make this a viable service,” Edwards said.

Reno Deaton, executive director of the Greer Development Corp., said the Upstate is uniquely positioned to benefit from strong relations between the U.S. and Canada.

“We’re very fortunate,” he said. “There are a number of Canadian companies working here (in the Upstate) and companies in the Upstate doing business in Canada. We have a lot of resources here that can help strengthen those ties.”

Blais is based in Atlanta and represents Canada in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.

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