So who are all the people who went with Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson to China and what the heck are they doing there?
The agenda and list of delegates are below for the Nov. 4-12 tour to Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Hong Kong. In Shanghai, Robertson dazzled a banquet crowd when he read a prepared and rehearsed greeting in Mandarin. Judging by the audience response, he did not criticize China’s deplorable human rights record.
The business and culture junket is costing taxpayers $275,000. Robertson’s entourage includes chief of staff Mike Magee, community relations director Lara Honrado, councillors Tony Tang and Kerry Jang, assistant city manager Wendy Au, communications coordinator Joseph Li, Vancouver Economic Commission CEO Ian McKay, CFO Joan Elangovan, business development officer J.P. Mercieca and special events and projects manager Katrina Tu.
A Nov. 6 news release from VEC heralded the five (count ’em, five!) MOUs (memoranda of understanding) between Vancouver and Chinese entities. Cut through the spin and the smog and understand that an MOU is not a job-creating contract for goods or services, but instead a handshake and photo opportunity that could someday lead to a contract for goods and services. Or maybe not.
When “Chairman MOU” Robertson returns home, expect the Vision Vancouver politburo and ministry of information to claim this was money well-spent and the trip will leave a legacy for years to come.
Actually, it is a brand-building exercise for Robertson, a chance to send photographs home to Vancouver’s Chinese media outlets and a chance to rub shoulders with potential donors to Robertson’s next political campaign. He says it will be for a third term as mayor in 2014, but whispers continue about Robertson going federal as a westside Vancouver candidate with Liberal leader Justin Trudeau’s team in 2015.
University of British Columbia business professors Keith Head and John Ries analyzed federal government trade missions to Asia and found that they’re a good excuse for a free trip and little else. Their 2009 paper Do Trade Missions Increase Trade? concluded:
“The paper does not support the use of missions as a vehicle for increasing bilateral trans- actions. Our analysis of merchandise trade, service trade, and (foreign direct investment) does not provide reliable evidence to support the Canadian government’s claim that the missions generated tens of billions in new business deals.”
In a news release, Head was decidedly blunt:
“The main cost of trade missions may not be financial, it may be the distraction of government leaders from their primary tasks. Instead of sorting through tricky issues involving hospital beds or highways, they are instead jetting around the world, taking pictures with world leaders, feeling important but accomplishing nothing.”
If academics say federal trade missions are not beneficial, then similar civic trade missions probably aren’t either.
Safe travels and don’t let the smog get you down, “Chairman MOU”! 安全的旅行，不要让烟雾让你失望，主席MOU