Alberta premier challenges Trump on cross-border trade comments

Premier Rachel Notley is urging U.S. President Donald Trump to explain what he means when he mentions sectors that ought to be reviewed under Canada-U.S. trade agreements.

Last week, Trump singled out the Canadian dairy industry, lumber and energy as sectors that should come under the microscope during an examination of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Notley says there could be large cost increases for a number of players in the U.S. if Trump imposes a border adjustment tax on Canadian energy.

"The president himself ought to be more specific," said Notley speaking to reporters Monday from Guangdong province in China.

Notley is leading a 10-day trade mission to China and Japan as part of an effort to diversify Alberta's economy and lessen its reliance on the United States market.

Keeping up to Trump's twitter posts alone hasn't been top of mind in China where social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter are inaccessible, Notley noted.

"At this point, I haven't had a chance to turn my mind to the last four or five days of tweets, but certainly we'll be getting briefed when we come home," she said.

Notley told reporters that seeking out new markets for Alberta products is a good strategy, "regardless of who is in the White House."

"Our government was already committed to building more international relationships as a means of economic development in response to the struggles that many Albertans are facing as a result in the drop in the price of oil," said Notley.

The premier recalled that during visits to Houston last month by Alberta officials, it was evident there are energy customers "who need and want access to Alberta's energy."

Added Notley: "It's not something as simple as just throwing out a border adjustment tax, because in fact there'll be huge consequences and cost increases for a number of different players throughout the U.S. should that happen."

Notley said a newly signed agreement with Guangdong province in southern China will result in "real progress for Alberta."

She said the "sister-province relationship agreement" creates the conditions to work more closely on shared interests that will result in jobs and increased investment in Alberta.

Notley, who was speaking from Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong, said there was no specific discussion about Chinese investment in the Alberta oil patch. But the premier said developing closer ties with China will help Alberta lessen its reliance on the United States as its main energy customer.

"There was a definite discussion about the fact that Guangdong in particular is interested in diversifying  its market, from which it imports oil and gas, and they're very interested in the product that we have here in Alberta," said Notley.

Opportunity for Nait

Last week an agreement was signed between China's BYD, the world's largest manufacturer of rechargeable industrial batteries, and Edmonton's Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) and the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) in Calgary. 

The rechargeable batteries are used in large industrial electric vehicles such as buses and garbage trucks, which BYD also manufactures. BYD has now signed an agreement with NAIT and SAIT to train mechanics to service the vehicles.

Although NAIT has conducted international training programs since 1962 in more than 60 countries, this latest one is a unique opportunity, said Brian Pardell, head of NAIT's continuing education and workforce development department.

"It represents a refocusing of NAIT as an international service provider. We are well known throughout the world obviously by our name and our brand, and by the quality of education we provide," says Pardell.

The plan is to deliver the training program in person and online so that it can be translated to any language and be used worldwide where clean technology is an emerging sector, Pardell said.

"We know that BYD, has opportunities for their heavy-duty electric vehicles to be used all around the world  in many different industries. In early discussions right now with BYD, it's anticipated that there will be all sorts of opportunities and modalities of delivery that are expected."

A timeline will be worked out with BYD over the next six months, with the training course beginning a year from now.

Notley, along with Alberta Economic Development Minister Deron Bilous, will now travel to Japan in the final stop of the Asia trade mission.