Former MLA Ben Stewart is B.C.’s new investment and trade commissioner for Asia, Premier Christy Clark announced Monday.
Stewart will be based in Beijing, but will travel to Japan and Korea to meet regularly with officials working for B.C.’s international trade ministry.
Stewart said his experience promoting the wine industry in Asia will help him in the job. Clark emphasized Stewart’s experience as an MLA and cabinet minister, which she said gives him quick access to her and other cabinet ministers.
“We need a representative in Asia who is known to have access to power and government here in British Columbia,” Clark said. “That is a critical part of doing successful business in Asia.”
Stewart, owner of Quail’s Gate winery, stepped down shortly after winning re-election in Westside-Kelowna in May so Clark could run in a by-election in July.
He will be paid $150,000 to serve in the Asia trade role, which is about the same salary he received as a cabinet minister before he was demoted to the backbench when Clark was selected as B.C. Liberal leader. The cabinet order appointing him allows the salary to increase to $170,000.
NDP international trade critic Bruce Ralston said B.C. has two dozen staffers in their Asian trade offices, with senior people who speak the local languages and are more qualified than Stewart.
“There isn’t a provincial senate, so I guess this is the next best thing,” Ralston said.
Stewart said he worked on trade issues in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan as well as Europe and Latin America, trying to open markets for B.C. wine. That experience taught him “how difficult it is to establish relationships from afar,” he said.
The announcement comes as Clark prepares for her own trade mission to Asia in late November, following similar tours by Forests Minister Steve Thomson and Natural Gas Development Minister Rich Coleman.
After the May election, Clark established a new ministry of international trade, headed by Richmond Centre MLA Teresa Wat, who will accompany Clark on the trade mission that continues until Dec. 3.