CANADIANS URGED TO SWITCH FOCUS OF TRADE TO ASIA

CANADIANS URGED TO SWITCH FOCUS OF TRADE TO ASIA

Canadians are missing opportunities to sell into the fast-growing Asian market by concentrating too much on the United States, officials and analysts said Monday.

It's not that difficult to double or even triple imports if Canadian manufacturers and suppliers pay more attention to the market, said Francis Chau of the Canadian diplomatic mission in Hong Kong.Mr. Chau and the others spoke as Food & Beverage Canada '88, a promotion designed to showcase Canadian goods, opened in Hong Kong.

About 75 percent of all Canada's exports go to the United States. Canada is Hong Kong's sixth-largest overseas market but does not figure in the top 10 of Hong Kong suppliers.

For the first 11 months of last year, Canada had a trade deficit with Hong Kong of HK$5.5 billion (US$705 million), even though its exports to the colony rose.

Hong Kong imports virtually all its food - HK$26 billion (US$3.17 billion) worth last year. Canada accounted for less than 1 percent of that, Mr. Chau said.

Some Canadian food products are deemed too high quality and thus are too expensive for the local market because exporters are concentrating on the United States and Europe, he said.

Despite those problems, Mr. Chau said, Canada did increase sales last year of edible oils, wheat, meat and seafood. Exports of the last jumped 200 percent thanks to the geoduck, which isn't a duck at all but a hard-shell clam.

We've been working on (the Hong Kong market) for 10 years on how to eat it, Mr. Chau says.

The major importer of Canadian food is Dah Chong Hong Ltd., which is linked to Hang Seng Bank, a unit of Hongkong & Shanghai Banking Corp.

Chu Hon-fai of Dah Chong contends most Canadians are content to remain in the comfortable domestic and U.S. markets despite dangers.

When they are hit by another U.S. recession, it will be too late, he said.

Mr. Chu said he believes many Canadian products haven't been properly introduced to Asian markets.

One Canadian with an ambitious target happens to be Jack Kennedy, agent- general for the province of Alberta. He aims to carve out a 10 percent share of the Hong Kong fresh beef market within three years.

Ten percent would be an astronomical gain, he said. But if you don't set your target high, you don't get anywhere.

The United States dominates with about 70 percent of the market, followed by Australia, the Netherlands and New Zealand. Mr. Kennedy claimed a breakthrough last year with sales of HK$1 million (US$121,951) worth of Alberta beef.

We're beginning to eat into the U.S. prime beef market, he said. But Mr. Kennedy added that the biggest problem is getting Canadians to take the business seriously.

Shelley Gunton, outgoing head of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, said she has been frustrated in trying to get a Canadian company interested in exporting to Hong Kong.

She wanted a supply of high-quality dog food for her pet, and offered to act as local agent for a Toronto-based firm that she declines to identify.

We telephoned, telexed, faxed and got no response - not even a price list, Ms. Gunton said.

When she approached a U.S. supplier, they were delighted and actually flew out here to meet me, she said. The U.S. company's product is now on its way for sale in pet shops and to breeders and kennels.

This could have been a Canadian product, she lamented.