Manitoba business groups look to expand trade partnerships with Nunavut

WINNIPEG –

Business groups are looking north to expand trade partnerships and economic opportunities.

Nunavut was the focus of a discussion held Thursday at the Winnipeg Art Gallery—home to the new Inuit art centre named Qaumajuq.

The territory has existing relationships with Manitoba and some see the potential for further growth, particularly in the southernmost region of Kivalliq.

“It goes way back, whether it’s for medical travel or with the Churchill port for transporting goods to the region,” said Patrick Tagoona, president of the Kivalliq Chamber of Commerce based in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, of the relationship with Manitoba.

In the Kivalliq region some cargo comes from Manitoba, either by air or by rail and then onto Nunavut by ship from the Port of Churchill.

It’s a relationship Derrick Webster knows well. He’s the chief operating officer of the Inuit-owned EPLS Group of Companies based in Arviat, Nunavut which works to supply the territory with a variety of goods and services including food and clothing and building supplies.

“The government up there and the people are very supportive of people who are there to give and not just take and that’s really the approach and they’re very quick to identify that,” Webster said.

He shared his perspectives at a discussion hosted Thursday by the World Trade Centre Winnipeg, Manitoba Chambers of Commerce and Business Council of Manitoba on expanding trade partnerships with Nunavut.

Jon Reyes, Manitoba’s Minister of Economic Development and Jobs, told attendees Manitoba and Nunavut have already been working together for more than a decade in areas such as economic development, trade and energy.

“Today’s event provides an opportunity to strengthen and further this relationship and unleash the potential of our economies for more jobs and sustainable growth,” Reyes said.

The mayors of the northern Manitoba communities of Thompson and Churchill see benefits in beefing up the trade link with Nunavut.

“The opportunities are endless,” said Colleen Smook, Thompson’s mayor. “We’re already a supply chain with the rail that takes a lot of the commodities up there.”

Churchill Mayor Mike Spence said reinvestments in the rail line to his community will help keep it an intricate part of the trade link between Manitoba and Nunavut.

“We’re connected,” Spence said. “It’s a matter of improving on infrastructure, which we’re doing.”

With no connection by road, Manitoba-based companies like Calm Air are relied upon heavily to keep people and supplies moving but it’s expensive, according to CEO Gary Bell since goods travel one way and planes return empty.

He said the company would like to be able to bring back more northern-produced goods to help cut down costs.

“The price of that would be really attractive because now we can lower the price of all goods going in both directions,” Bell told attendees of the discussion at the WAG.

Tagoona said there’s support for expanding partnerships.

“We’ve got two operating mines right now in our region,” he said. “That right now—in terms of job opportunities, providing products—that’s significant.”

Tagoona also noted it’s important new ventures benefit people in the region, by giving them opportunity and respecting their values.  

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