Business Champion

Chief Trade Commissioner Ailish Campbell on helping Canadian companies thrive overseas

Around the world, there are more than 160 Trade Commissioner Service offices, which are dedicated to helping Canadian companies grow and thrive in overseas markets. Overseeing the operations of these offices is one of the many duties of Chief Trade Commissioner Ailish Campbell, who is also assistant deputy minister of International Business Development.

The career that has led up to her current positions is equally impressive. She earned a D.Phil. in International Relations from the University of Oxford and has been recognized by the World Economic Forum as a Young Global Leader. Before joining the Trade Commissioner Service, Campbell was a general director at the Department of Finance and vice president of Policy, International and Fiscal at the Business Council of Canada.

Campbell was recently in Tokyo, on a trip that coincided with the First Canadian Women-only Business Mission to Japan, at which she was a featured speaker. During her visit, she spoke with The Canadian about the influence that the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) has already had in the Asia–Pacific region, the launch of the Canadian Technology Accelerator (CTA) program in Tokyo, as well as the opportunities that the mission opens up for female business owners.

How often do you come to Japan?

I try to come at least once a year. I’d like to come to Japan more. It’s a fantastic market. Japan and Canada have so many synergies. I think there’s a real appreciation for high-quality consumer products, in particular, here. A lot of innovation is happening, and we have an amazing team at the Canadian Embassy.

As the CPTPP continues to gather momentum, what are your thoughts about its effect on global trade so far?

We’ve already seen businesses tell us that they’ve had a surge in exports to Japan, particularly in areas where there have been high tariff cuts. Where there had been tariffs of five, 10 or 15 per cent, they are starting to come down immediately upon implementation of the CPTPP. That starts having real value for businesses, and it starts having real value for consumers who can get products cheaper.

What I can tell you from our experience with our other free trade agreements is that products which see tariff cuts will experience an increase in exports, and we’re really excited to see more two-way trade with Japan.

What kinds of Canadian businesses would you like to see getting involved with trade through the CPTPP?

The answer is all of them. Particularly, we’re focusing our efforts on high-growth companies. So many more companies are in digital- or IT-related sectors, and they’re going global much more quickly — much earlier in their business plans — than traditional businesses might have done. Of course, we’re also strong in the natural resource sectors. We’ve got the potential to continue to be a global protein superpower — whether that’s plant-based protein, seafood or beef and pork, which are hugely popular here in Japan.

But we’re also doing our best to make sure that small businesses get the most out of the CPTPP. One thing that I really want readers of The Canadian to know about is our CanExport Program. It’s there for small businesses to come to Japan for the first time or to develop a new product in Japan. Through the program, we can cost-share projects with exporters, up to C$50,000 for a project. I think it creates just a little bit more incentive and puts out a message that says, “Hey, you’re going to have some skin in the game as an entrepreneur and a small business owner, and the Trade Commissioner Service wants to partner with you and also provide funding to help mitigate some of the risk that goes with entering a market like Japan.”

Go global, and use the Trade Commissioner Service — we’re here to serve businesses of all sizes. We want to hear from them.

Can you tell me about the recent launch of the CTA program in Tokyo?

We’re very excited about that. What the Canadian Technology Accelerator program [of Global Affairs Canada] does is provide an extensive amount of services to a small number of companies, which helps them grow their business faster through international trade and keep them connected to Canada.

We started it in the United States, starting in the big tech markets — San Francisco, Palo Alto, New York and Boston. And I’m just thrilled that we were able to show that we helped to accelerate a number of companies and sped up their acquisition of customers. And that means the onboarding of new ongoing revenue for clients. In turn, that means they’re able to grow their business back in Canada more quickly. And this success led to us pitching — kind of like entrepreneurs ourselves inside of the government — to bring that series of more intense programs to Asia. And we’re recruiting candidates for the Tokyo CTA as we speak.

How do you think that the First Canadian Women-only Business Mission to Japan can help inspire strong ties between female members of the Japanese and Canadian business communities?

Well, I think first and foremost, we’re here to introduce companies, many of whom have not been to the Japanese market. And we chose a subsector — elder care — that is really relevant to the Japanese economy. It’s about taking care of the elderly and giving them lives of dignity, but also reducing the burden on families who are involved in caring for a senior citizen. So, as a part of the mission, we’ve got Canadian companies involved in everything from digital and health applications to better managing hospital data to actual services and products for senior citizens.

Ailish Campbell delivers remarks during the First Canadian Women-only Business Mission to Japan.

Do you have any message that you’d like to share with female business leaders and, particularly, entrepreneurs?

It’s to go global, and use the Trade Commissioner Service — we’re here to serve businesses of all sizes. We want to hear from them.

Are there any industries in which you would like to see more Canadian and Japanese women getting involved?

I think that question is as individual as the women themselves, so I wouldn’t want to tell them what to do. I am a big believer that my job is to provide good public services that create value for business with our global team. But I think it would be sort of amusing for a bureaucrat to tell business what to do. They should be in the sector where they can make a profit, and where they can have value that they feel is aligned with their interests and their customers. And then, the real question is: Are we in the Trade Commissioner Service providing them enough value?

And we learn every day from our business clients and every service that we provide around the world. You know, some trade commissioner somewhere had a business say, “I really like what you do, but what I really need help in is this.” And over time, entrepreneurial trade commissioners have developed new services.

Particularly in the case of the CTA program, I’m really proud that trade commissioners piloted that in the United States, and now we’re scaling it out globally. So, we’re really here to listen to business.

Related Content