Stéphane Forget has been the President and CEO of the Fédération des chambres du commerce du Québec since the fall of 2016.

Since its inception in 1909, the Fédération des chambres du commerce du Québec (FCCQ) has been working to promote economic development and Quebec businesses. Its membership includes 140 chambers of commerce and close to 1,200 businesses. With a network of chambers of commerce across the province and 21 working committees, the FCCQ approaches key issues both from a regional and a sectoral perspective. It also represents the interests of employers to the federal and provincial governments.

One of FCCQ’s objectives is to encourage the development of a business environment that promotes export and economic growth, and ensuring that its members have the information they need to make the right business decisions.

The new US administration and its impact on Quebec exporters

Since the fall of 2016, the FCCQ has been collecting data to document concerns from its members’ regarding the change in administration south of the border and guide them within this context. A meeting on Quebec-US relations was also held in early 2017, in partnership with the Quebec government, for businesses active on both sides of the border.

Stéphane Forget is clear on the attitude to adopt in order to maintain a favourable environment for exports to the US: “We have to be proactive and show the Americans, using hard figures, that the free trade agreement between the US, Mexico and Canada is mutually beneficial. We also need to show the level of integration of markets and value chains on both sides of the border.”

If Quebec businesses are to seize the exporting opportunities that arise, they need governments to be agile and flexible. This flexibility, coupled with tax tools similar to those of competitors, will help Quebec businesses adapt to this new context.

Tools made available to Quebec’s exporters

Since 2001, the FCCQ has been managing the trade corridors linking Quebec to New England and the state of New York. Collaborative agreements have been signed with a number of US partners, and networking events have been organized to promote trade on both sides of the border.

The FCCQ recently took Quebec’s trade commissioners stationed in New York and Boston on a tour of various chambers of commerce in the province to present the supporting role of trade commissioners and the tools they offer to businesses. Says Mr. Forget: “Businesses greatly appreciate these field tours. Business owners are busy people and they don’t always have the resources to go and meet with trade commissioners at events held in urban centres such as Montréal and Québec.”

Another tool offered to businesses in partnership with the FCCQ is the Centre de croissance accélérée, which was established in the fall of 2016 on the initiative of the Quebec trade commissioner in New York and supported by the Quebec government. The Centre brings together the top expert advisors and provides targeted support to Quebec businesses that export to the US. The COREX program, meanwhile, offers businesses a range of tools and expert advice as well as a B2B platform to help them grow their market in the northeastern United States and to enable Quebec and US businesses to connect with each other and assess business opportunities.

Challenges and opportunities for Quebec exporters in 2017

According to the FCCQ, the main challenge for the coming year will be to continue promoting the opening up of markets and the signing of export trade agreements in a context where protectionist tendencies seem to be taking root in some corners of the world. In addition, export markets must be diversified, and businesses must update their technology as needed to increase their productivity. “The challenge is to remain competitive, which requires flexibility, determination and financial capacity if you hope to stay current,” Mr. Forget sums up.

The FCCQ is keeping a close watch on the renegotiation of NAFTA, the possible introduction of tariffs at the US border and the corporate tax reform in the United States—all of which will have an impact on Quebec and Canadian companies.

On a more optimistic note, Mr. Forget remarks: “Notwithstanding discussions set to take place in the coming weeks and months, the US president wants to grow his country’s economy, which means there will be opportunities to seize. We should also prepare for the free trade agreement that was signed with Europe and quickly identify the markets Quebec can break into.”

In short, the current environment will probably require some adaptation. For example, companies may have to review their business model or make more acquisitions in the US or Mexico. Mr. Forget concludes on a high note: “There’s an opportunity in every challenge!”