Manitoba, Mexico launch trade partnership

Winnipeg Free Press
December 2, 2015
Martin Cash

MEXICAN trade officials and agricultural producers are in Winnipeg this week to kick-start a trade project that hopes to use Manitoba's CentrePort as the springboard. 

Premier Greg Selinger and CentrePort chief executive officer Diane Gray signed a memorandum of understanding Tuesday with the minister for trade and investment with the Mexican Embassy, as well as three Mexican development banks. 

The purpose is to co-operate in what is hoped will become the development of a shared-use distribution centre at CentrePort Canada (North America's largest inland port) for Mexican produce and processed foods. 

"This could become a real game-changer for CentrePort," Selinger said. "It is a major platform for trade directly between Mexico and Canada." 

The idea is to replicate similar Mexican produce-distribution centres in McAllen, Texas,and Chicago. More precisely, it would allow Mexican produce to get into Canada, bypassing the American intermediaries. 

Two-way trade between Canada and Mexico totalled $34 billion in 2014, but Canadian officials believe Mexican imports are under-represented by as much as 100 per cent. That's because much of Mexican produce lands in Canada via American middlemen. 

"It is a trade reality that increases company costs for transportation and distribution, and adds to consumer prices," said Gray. 

"This is about streamlining the supply chain and ultimately, providing Mexican companies with a more direct, timely way of distributing their products." 

There seemed to be genuine enthusiasm for the project, as witnessed by the large Mexican contingent numbering more than 20 who travelled to Winnipeg in December. 

"This is definitely a project that will involve the growth of Mexican exports to Canada," said Mario Rodriguez Montero, head of trade and investment at the Mexican embassy in Ottawa. 

But if the project is followed through to completion it would also mean jobs and employment in Winnipeg, with the development of a distribution facility shared by several Mexican companies. 

Rodriguez Montero said there was already talk of research projects with Mexican companies and the Winnipeg-based Richardson Centre for Functional Foods and Nutraceuticals, as well as a co-operative project between the Royal Canadian Mint in Winnipeg and the Mexican mint in San Luis Potos. 

CentrePort has been working on the project for some time, and has retained the services of Jorge Acevedo, former CEO of the Guanajuato inland port in central Mexico. 

Gray said the timing of the launch of a platform for investment and trade between Mexico and Manitoba builds on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and also attempts to establish firmer co-operation in light of the recent conclusion of negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). 

 "We need to work more diligently and closely as a continent," she said. 

But the bottom line for Manitoba is creating more trade flow and actual on-the-ground activity. 

Not unlike Canadian trade with the United States, Mexican exporters find the most readily available export market in the U.S.

But Gustavo Leal, sales manager of Mexican fruit juice company Del Norte Foods Inc., said he thinks his company has the right product for the healthy-foods conscious Canadian consumers. 

As well, he said, the opportunity for a co-operative push into the Canadian market was attractive. 

"If we can put something together that accommodates different companies from Mexico to come here and help us get introduced to the right people to sell our product here, we can have some good success," he said.

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