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Ten Tips for Doing Business in Canada

Posted by Kristen Rupert on Dec 18, 2013 9:23:00 AM

This season’s beautiful Boston Common Christmas tree - an annual thank-you gift from the people of Halifax, Nova Scotia to Boston for providing medical assistance after a 1917 explosion in Halifax – carries symbolism not just for the holiday season, but also for the enduring economic relationship between Massachusetts and Canada.

Toronto SkylineCanada is Massachusetts’ largest trading partner, with more than $10 billion in goods and services exchanged in 2012.  Canada is also the United States’ biggest trading partner. 

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick led a trade delegation to Toronto and Montreal in October.  That trip, in which AIM participated, included meetings with industry leaders in tourism, financial services, wind energy, life sciences, technology, and digital gaming.

Bay State government officials and private industry executives also met with entrepreneurs running start-up businesses in Canada ranging from farm food for school kids, to roads that generate their own power, to venture funds that support technology companies with women in senior positions.  Other start-ups at the meeting focused on energy efficiency, transportation infrastructure, tooth decay prevention, urban rooftop gardens, and health initiatives.  

Governor Patrick upon his return joined executives from Massachusetts firms Ocean Spray (Lakeville), Lojack (Canton), Foley Hoag (Boston) and Diamond Machining Technology (Marlborough) to address about 75 business leaders from across the commonwealth at an AIM event in Boston titled “Doing Business in Canada.”

The North American Free Trade Agreement makes commerce between the U.S. and Canada efficient and nearly duty-free.  The two countries share cultural similarities.  We mostly speak the same language.  Here in Massachusetts, we are close enough to drive to Canada.  Air travel is also easy; Porter Airlines has eight flights a day between Logan Airport and Toronto’s Billy Bishop Airport, right in the city, and the flight is just over one hour.

Business leaders at the event offered advice about how to succeed trading with Canada:

  1. Learn about hockey.  Hockey is common currency in social and business conversations.  Business gets done at hockey games.
  2. Consider your best way to enter Canada.  One AIM-member company sells through a distributor, two member companies bought Canadian companies with complementary products, and yet another AIM company bought land and set up farming and manufacturing in Canada.
  3. Do your homework and use resources provided by the Massachusetts Export Center, the US Dept of Commerce/Commercial Service, or the Canadian Consulate and the Quebec Office in Boston.  These organizations can help with competitive research, distributor searches and other needs.
  4. Remember that although Canada is very similar to the US, employment laws, labor laws, legal structures and tax policies differ slightly.  Use experts to help you understand the differences.
  5. Build and nurture relationships; these are critical.  Don’t take Canada for granted.
  6. Get the border crossing process right.  As one panelist said, it’s not just about crossing the border, it’s also about getting all the documentation and processes correct.
  7. Respect that French is spoken in Quebec, and make an effort to learn some of that language.  Also understand that the language difference is, as one panelist said, “a speed bump, rather than a road block.”
  8. Look beyond just Ontario, Quebec and the Atlantic Provinces.  Western Canada is experiencing huge economic growth from extraction industries, with many business-to-business and business-to-consumer opportunities for Massachusetts firms.
  9. Help influence trade policy.  The current TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) trade negotiations, in which the US, Canada, Japan, South Korea, China and other Pacific Rim countries are engaged, is important to many global customers who would like to deal with North America as a bloc, rather than three separate countries.  The TPP would lower tariffs and other trade barriers.
  10. If you’re not yet trading with Canada, you should start.  It’s a forgiving place to begin.  Per one panelist, “If you do something wrong, it’s like stubbing your toe, versus breaking your leg.”

Topics: International Trade, Massachusetts economy, Deval Patrick

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