The premier of British Columbia formally opened Orange County's first foreign trade office Thursday, making Irvine the base from which the Canadian province will solicit Southern California trade, conventioneers and tourists.
British Columbia is targeting Southern California because of its booming economy and strong high-tech and manufacturing base. Being central to Los Angeles and San Diego, Orange County is the best location to cover the entire Southern California region, trade officials said.
Darryl Mircheff, director of trade and investment at the Irvine office, said his goal is to raise the profile of the province so that when U.S. firms look to relocate or expand their markets, they will consider British Columbia.
Joining British Columbia Premier William N. Vander Zalm at the opening ceremony were Irvine Mayor Larry Agran and other British Columbia officials.
The Irvine office is British Columbia's first foreign trade office. Mircheff and his staff moved into their new quarters, located blocks from John Wayne Airport at 2600 Michelson Drive, in the fall, and since then had been preparing for its official opening, he said.
While the emphasis will be on California, the office also will seek trade, investment and tourism opportunities in Arizona, Nevada and Utah, Mircheff said.
Trade between the United States and Canada is expected to increase because of the Free Trade Agreement, which went into effect on Jan. 1. The pact, intended to eliminate all trade tariffs between the United States and Canada over the next 10 years, will make business opportunities more attractive to investors on both sides, especially large corporations.
The agreement is expected to open up U.S. markets to Canadian companies and eliminate $2 billion annually in U.S. tariffs and create new jobs and lower prices for products in both countries.
According to Mircheff, two-way trade between California and British Columbia is $1.2 billion a year. British Columbia's principal exports to California are wood and fish products, he said.
"The whole thrust of what we're doing is to diversify out of those traditional markets," Mircheff said.
Along with increased trade and investment between the two regions, Mircheff said that joint ventures for research and development in the high-tech industries might also be established.