Nova Scotia food exports grow, but so do concerns over Trump trade threats

Half of Nova Scotia's $2.1 billion in food exports is seafood destined for the United States, a figure that's increasingly worrisome for the province with President Donald Trump's threat to tear up the North American Free Trade Agreement.

"We have been talking to the federal government about this," Frank Dunn, the province's deputy fisheries minister, told a Nova Scotia Legislature committee Wednesday.

"We have expressed our concern, particularly around NAFTA and free trade, and you know the desire to ensure that that agreement continues."

During the U.S. election campaign last year, Trump called NAFTA "the worst trade deal maybe ever signed anywhere." Following a meeting this year with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, however, he suggested it might only need "tweaking."

According to figures provided by the province, seafood exports to the United States have grown 90 per cent in the last four years. In 2012, $533.1 million worth of seafood left Nova Scotia for markets south of the border. In 2016, that figure had grown to $1 billion.

During that time, Nova Scotia has been developing new markets in China, and Nova Scotia companies have been shipping more to that country. In 2016, companies shipped $254 million worth of seafood there, triple the amount just four years prior.

Selling juice to China

Dunn said making inroads in China is an attempt to ensure that if the U.S. market losses its appetite for Nova Scotia seafood, companies here will have elsewhere to ship.

One of goals in both Nova Scotia's fisheries and agriculture departments is to diversify markets to cut down risk.

"We're targeting China, there's no secret to that, both on the seafood side and some of our agriculture products," he said. "But we see a real opportunity in the Chinese market to be able to deliver premium product at a premium price."

One of those "premium" products the province has started marketing is blueberries, in juice and wine.

"It's all about the middle class growing in China," Dunn said. "Marketed the right way, it can be marketed as a premium product.

"The nutritional value of blueberries, particularly wild blueberries, is well known and that's a big thing for the Chinese."