By Tom Peters

In business there is no substitute for personal contact. Developing relationships and partnerships on a face-to-face basis in an investment in success. Halifax Port Authority (HPA) subscribes to this philosophy and in doing so has developed global contacts to build its business. “It is extremely important for the Port. We have to be out there, in front of people,” said Alison Winsor, the Port Authority’s Manager of International Trade Development. “We have targeted a number of regions in Europe, which is really strong for the Port and Asia, a key growth area.” Winsor said Asia has become particularly important with nearly half the Port’s containerized cargo coming from that part of the world.

“For the past 10 years we have really targeted Asia. We have made consistent visits because relationship building is very important. Also, in many areas we have been investing in the region with a person on the ground who can answer importer or exporter questions and that’s invaluable,” she said. Port officials travel at least twice a year, this year three times, to Asia and in particular China, to meet with shipping lines, freight forwarders, importers and exporters and to promote the Atlantic region.

The Port’s outreach to China has grown steadily with the establishment of a “virtual office” created by HPA staff member Sam Zhang. “China is our largest trading partner as shown in our 2012 numbers and our trade continues to grow,” said Winsor. Building on the virtual office, Port officials have already visited China twice this year and will return again in October plus stop at other Asian trading countries.

Earlier this year the HPA hosted a group from China’s Wuhan New Port, an inland port, and during the visit signed co-operation agreement to work together to promote trade. As well, HPA will sign a sister port twinning agreement with Shenzhen Port Authority during the October trip. Winsor said the Chinese are interested in Maritime frozen seafood so there is potential in building that business. In the long term, exporting of agricultural products to China will become even more important as China’s ability to produce its own food dwindles as a result of more people moving from the rural areas of the country into the cities.

In other regions of the globe, HPA has partnered with CN in Vietnam. HPA has had a representative in Vietnam since 2009, but that person now has plans to emigrate to Canada. In order to maintain and build trade continuity, HPA hired a new representative who also works with CN in Ho Chi Minh City. Business in Vietnam has grown 96 per cent since first bringing in a representative, said Winsor. “CN is very important partner for us. Having CN attached to our networking efforts is vital in order to sell an end-to-end supply chain solution,” she said. HPA is also working with CN to hire a new representative in India which is a country with great trading potential for both import and export of containerized cargo.

In Europe, HPA has had a representative based in Belgium since 2010. “Our focus in that market is geared toward breakbulk and project cargo,” Winsor said. HPA plans to visit Europe this fall with the Atlantic Provinces’ Economic Council (APEC) and Halifax Stanfield International Airport officials to promote the region and the megaprojects either planned or underway in Atlantic Canada. APEC has identified over $115 billion in megaprojects for the region that include offshore development and exploration, mining and shipbuilding to name a few. Winsor said HPA sees opportunities with these projects in project cargo, base supply, component parts for windmills, engineered goods, plus many other items.

In North America, HPA has focused its outreach in the U.S. and parts of Canada. The Authority now has a representative in Chicago, Susan Nathan, who will work with Paul DuVoisin, HPA’s Vice-President Commercial based in the U.S., to grow the vital American Midwest markets. The Port Authority also maintains a regular presence and contact with customers in Toronto and Central Canada and is now working to develop more of a presence in the West as it sees potential in the important agricultural market. The Port has handled agri-products from the West through Halifax Grain Elevator Ltd.

HPA’s outreach program continues to pay dividends. It remains an integral part of growing business in existing markets and vital to developing new markets to their fullest potential.