Canada and the United States already have the world's largest trading relationship, and the Canadian government hopes to make it even bigger in the next four years, Ottawa's local representative said Tuesday.
Mark Romoff, Canadian Consul General in Buffalo, said he and other diplomats posted south of the border have been directed to spur trade, investment and tourism between the two countries.
"Exports are Canada's lifeblood," Romoff said in an interview after speaking to the Niagara Chapter of the Canada-U.S. Business Association (CUSBA).
"We in government recognize that trade is critical. The priority market is the United States, and we hope to expand the existing relationship," he said.
Last year, about $1 billion worth of goods and/or services were sold daily each way. The United States shipped $128 billion worth of merchandise north of the border in 1995.
The government of Prime Minister Jean Chretien now hopes to double the number of so-called active Canadian exporters by the year 2000. About 10,000 firms currently account for 98 percent of Canada's foreign sales, and 60 companies rack up more than half of the receipts.
Romoff sees tremendous opportunities for trade growth with small- and medium-sized businesses on both sides of the border. Most currently aren't selling goods outside their respective homelands.
Romoff said his government can help novice Canadian exporters by introducing them to the U.S. marketplace via Buffalo. He wants to expand the New Exporters to Border States program, which has helped 3,050 firms do business in Western New York since it started in 1984. Nine out of every 10 new Canadian exporters got their start in Western New York.
Once Canadian businesses are comfortable in the U.S. market, Romoff wants them to form joint ventures and alliances with their American counterparts, in order to sell products overseas.
The diplomat also hopes to boost cross-border relationships between colleges and universities. About 500 U.S. institutions have Canadian studies programs, but more needs to be done, Romoff said.
"It's critically important that American students understand Canadian culture and history. I want to encourage more student interaction and joint research projects among faculty," he said.
About 200 political and business leaders attended Tuesday's luncheon welcoming Romoff to Buffalo. The event -- organized by CUSBA -- was held in the Statler Golden Ballroom and sponsored by the Buffalo Sabres, Fulfillment Services International, Marine Midland Bank, M&T Bank, PBB USA, Tower Group International and the Buffalo law firm of Hodgson, Russ, Andrews, Woods & Goodyear.
In recognition of the important role Canada and its diplomatic post play in the binational region, the luncheon attracted many top politicians including two U.S. Congressmen, two county executives and three mayors.
"We can go it alone on the Canadian side and we can make some progress," Romoff said. "But we can do far better as a partner with our academic, business, political and cultural friends on the U.S. side of the border."
He added: "We have the opportunity to take this binational relationship one step further."
Romoff was appointed consul general in August, succeeding Rob Mackenzie, who returned to Canada's Foreign Affairs Department after four years here.
A Montreal native, Romoff received a bachelor's degree in mathematics from McGill University and a master's in industrial psychology from the University of Waterloo. After graduation in 1972, he didn't initially think of a career in government. But an interview with a top official of the Department of Regional Economic Expansion peaked his interest and he accepted a job in the department.
After a stint at the Treasury Board Secretariat, Romoff entered the Canadian Foreign Service and began focusing on trade issues. His first overseas assignment was in Nigeria, followed by stints in Mexico and Malaysia.
Romoff returned to Ottawa in 1989, when he was named senior adviser in the department of Foreign Affairs' Resource Planning and Management Secretariat. He was stationed in Japan from 1992 until earlier this year.