OPINION | Wake up and smell the tea leaves: Advice for Canada

With the Prime Minister and his team’s visit to China late last year – and a major Chinese purchase of Aecon, Canada would be wise to look more deeply at the China Factor and address both the opportunity and the apprehension. The one certainty is that China is everywhere and our business community needs to get smart about what’s ahead.

Canada needs to be ready for globalization and it has some work to do to get its companies ready. With 75% of Canadian exports to the US, we’re good at selling to our next-door neighbour but its not clear we have a truly ‘global’ strategy. And while the government has ambitions for a diversified trade strategy, it’s not yet clear that Canadian entrepreneurs do. Even those who arebought-in on expanding to China (which represents only 4% of current exports) they need support to execute in a complex billion dollar potential market. The other place where we need to wake up is how we respond to the scope and scale of the influx of investment from China.

All the more reason why the Canadian Government needs be more involved in ensuring the success of those Canadian businesses looking to trade with China. There’s some lessons from the model that China itself has used.

Here’s How: 

  1. More hand-holding 

The Government of Canada needs to do more hand-holding with Canadian businesses, walking them through the education and execution process of globalization and doing business with China. If we’re going to deliver an FTA that works for Canada’s interests, there needs to be more active participation between governments and the business community.

We need to become more practical and focused on execution and commercialization – on getting the intellectual analysis out to the front lines, getting the knowledge to entrepreneurs who need it to take action, execute and succeed. This partnership between government and its businesses is just as important as the partnership being established between Canada and China.

  1. More cross-departmental collaboration.

There are too many parallel programs in different federal departments and not enough entrepreneurs know about them. How about redistributing some funds from program creation to program coordination or a single window or hub?

To bridge this gap, Canada needs a CMO – Chief Marketing Officer – to consolidate and coordinate its resources and programs for entrepreneurs; create a roadmap to guide entrepreneurs through the plethora of resources and phases in going global; and establish more interaction and ‘reach’ to get entrepreneurs on board.

  1. Create Democracy 2.0. 

Despite the incongruences between China’s boldly stated socialism-capitalism philosophy and the West’s democratic principles, perhaps China can be a teacher of the power of politics – and government – in business.  And how the strength of government and private sector alliances can breed economic success.

Maybe it’s time for Canada to define Democracy 2.0 – a closer public-private sector relationship where government becomes more involved in enabling and guiding entrepreneurship and global expansion. One might argue that they are already doing this in a limited way – but this is not yet happening to the same degree as in China, and this creates a competitive disadvantage. If we’re going to benefit from a China FTA the way we have from NAFTA, we need to understand our partner. It’s also important for Canadian entrepreneurs to take more control of their destiny as well.

We’re in the early stages of a Canada-China FTA. It’s an inevitable part of our future. If we’re going to get there, we have to realize it’s a new playing field. It’s time to assess Canadian businesses’ position, tap into information and resources and establish strategies and partnerships to start to advantage Canadian interests. The government and our business leaders need to be more proactive in evolving and dealing with this new global paradigm. Canadian entrepreneurs need to form strong alliances with their government more than ever. Public-private collaboration has never been more important in protecting and growing the economy.

Resistance to China is futile. Wake up and smell the tea, Canada!

Amy Karam is author of The China Factor: Leveraging Emerging Business Strategies to Compete, Grow and Win in the New Global Economy, CEO of Karam Consulting, a global expansion strategy practice and corporate instructor for Stanford University and Duke University. www.KaramConsulting.com

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