Memo to the next politician who plans a high-profile trade mission overseas: don’t bother. That’s the conclusion reached by Keith Head and John Ries at the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business after poring over years of trade data.
Proponents of big trade missions claim the trips lead to billions of dollars worth of business deals, while critics dismiss them as hollow photo ops. To find the truth, the researchers looked at reams of data related to bilateral merchandise trade between 1993 and 2003, when then-prime minister Jean Chrétien led numerous missions abroad. Regardless of all the press releases proclaiming mega-deals, it turns out Canada did no more business with the countries that were visited than it would have otherwise, and saw no trade gains relative to other countries. “We found the trade missions made no difference,” says Head, whose report appears in the August issue of the Canadian Journal of Economics.
There’s every reason to believe the conclusions also apply to the flurry of modern-day trade missions. Last year, federal Trade Minister Stockwell Day jetted around Asia with dozens of companies in tow, while provincial ministers have mounted countless trips abroad. So here’s a tip: stay home and save taxpayers’ money instead.