On October 21, the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal held its first event about trade relations with China. Some 100 guests gathered at the Palais des Congrès to hear Hubert Bolduc, President of Investissement Québec International, Jean Charest, former Quebec Premier and partner at McCarthy Tétrault, and Jean-François Lépine, President of Solix Globe Inc. and former Director of Quebec Government Representations in China, discuss risks and potential challenges for businesses to bear in mind when developing business relationships in China.
The evolution of Canada-China relations
The Chinese market is essential for Quebec exporters. In addition to being the second leading trade partner after the U.S., China receives an annual total of $5 billion in Quebec exports. Quebec receives $11 billion in products annually from China. While the trade balance seems unfavourable for Quebec, Hubert Bolduc is confident that Quebec exports will rapidly grow.
"We need to support businesses that want to go into China. There is room for improvement, and we need to continue in our efforts." – Hubert Bolduc, President, Investissement Québec International
Jean-François Lépine is optimistic about the development of business in China. With its population of 1.4 billion and a middle class of 500 million consumers, China is a huge market that Quebec businesses can't afford to ignore. Even though the internal climate is strained, the former Director of Quebec Government Representations in China has always felt a great deal of respect from the Chinese.
"While there are tensions, there is a real will in China to continue to grow." – Jean-François Lépine, President of Solix Globe Inc. and former Director of Quebec Government Representations in China (2015-2021)
Jean Charest did, however, caution exporters: there are worrying issues in China that can't be ignored. These include political tensions that led to the arrest of the CFO of telecom giant Huawei, Meng Wanzhou, and of the two Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, not to mention China's dirigisme of Hong Kong and its threats against Taiwan. But he added that these issues must be placed in the context and historical framework of the country.
"China is a driver of prosperity. It is in our interest to join forces with other countries to strategically address these challenges." – Jean Charest, former Premier of Quebec and partner at McCarthy Tétrault
The social responsibility of Quebec businesses in China
Jean Charest pointed out that Quebec and Canada live next door to a superpower – the U.S. – and that Quebec was victim of its authoritarianism more than once.
"We need to learn to deal with the unpleasant aspects of the Chinese regime, while reminding it of our disagreement on these issues. At the same time, we need to maintain a broader vision of development in the Indo-Pacific market." – Jean Charest
Good practices for business development in China
"A great deal of caution is required because of the risk of the arbitrary nature of local laws. China treats us with respect, but we need to arrive prepared." –Jean-François Lépine, President of Solix Globe Inc. and former Director of Quebec Government Representations in China (2015-2021)
The three experts on the panel agreed that business development in China is not for everyone. Jean-François Lépine pointed out that this is why it is best to be thoroughly prepared and why there is so much information and guidance for businesses. He also advised businesspeople to stay in touch with the embassies, to remain within the legal framework, and not to break the law. He believes that political tensions will continue to affect trade relations between Canada and China, and businesses need to get used to that. Jean-François Lépine added, however, that the business context is nonetheless safe, and that China is a gateway to other Asian markets Quebec businesses can exploit.
"We will continue to support Quebec businesses; there is enormous market potential in China. We need to show our presence there more often." – Hubert Bolduc, President, Investissement Québec International