Unlike most federal ministers who visit P.E.I., Jim Carr did not come with a ready-made funding announcement.
Instead, Carr’s visit this week was focused on meeting with local producers, like Amalgamated Dairies Limited and MacDougall Steel Erectors, to encourage them to take advantage of federal support programs geared towards encouraging export.
Carr, the minister responsible for international trade diversification, has a mandate to promote export from producers to markets beyond the United States, such as the European Union and Asia.
"You're producing goods that are in demand around the world. You're producing fish and shellfish and potatoes. You're producing solid honey,” Carr said.
Carr said the recent Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), as well as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership have been opening up opportunities for export.
Local producers may not yet be aware of these opportunities. A recent government survey found that only seven per cent of small and medium-sized exporters in the country are familiar with the details of the Canada-EU deal.
Still, Island exports are overwhelmingly directed at the U.S. market. The Island exported over $1 billion in 2018 to the United States. Next was France which saw just over $23 million in exports from the Island.
Overall, Carr said he has been struck by the optimism he has seen from producers on the Island.
"The feeling I get from Prince Edward Island is that this is a province, a community, that feels buoyant about future prospects. Job rates are growing here as fast as anywhere in the country," he said.
But recent trade agreements have not come without friction. Last October, Island dairy producers staged a protest at a funding announcement attended by then-agriculture minister Lawrence MacAulay. The dairy farmers were upset about the market access that had been given up as a result of agreements like CETA and the newly-inked CUSMA agreement with the U.S. Canadian dairy farmers have said they could lose close to 10 per cent of their market because of the trade agreements.
Carr said compensation programs have been set up for farmers affected by the trade agreements.
"When you sign a trade agreement, there can be impact on sectors,” Carr said.
“We have a responsibility as a government to make sure that impact is addressed through full and fair compensation, which is a promise that the prime minister has made and a promise that will be delivered."
Aside from trade agreements, the ongoing diplomatic dispute between the Canadian and Chinese governments has also rankled some export-oriented businesses. Since March, China has blocked imports from of canola, claiming evidence of pests has been found. Many have suggested the revocation of the permit was a result of the Canadian arrest of Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Huawei.
Some have suggested the trade dispute could spread to other sectors, such as the seafood industry.
Carr said Chinese scientists have yet to produce proof of the pests. But he said he has been leading trade missions to Japan and South Korea with representatives of the canola industry, to reduce reliance on the Chinese market. He also said he believed the dispute would not last.
"We've been doing business with the Chinese for a long time. We're going through a difficult period. In the longer term, we have confidence we'll come out of that. And there will be lessons learned,” Carr said.
"We have no evidence that there is an issue with the Chinese on Canadian exports of seafood and fish."