Richard Steffens says project good candidate for loan guarantees
Board of Trade general manager Paul Thomey (left) chats with their visiting guest Richard Steffens, minister counsellor for commercial affairs for the United States Embassy in Ottawa. — Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram
An American diplomat says Newfoundland and Labrador has business opportunities that are under the radar of many U.S. firms.
Richard Steffens, the minister-counsellor for commercial affairs at the American embassy in Ottawa, said he sees several opportunities in the province for cross-border development.
“I think first and foremost there’s got to be renewable energy with the big and very exciting projects you’re working on,” he said.
“I think there are a lot of opportunities for joint tourism, cross-border tourism promotion, and I’m also very interested in the industry cluster ideas that are being pursued here, and the real emerging expertise in aquaculture and the marine sectors, which I think is going to be very interesting to American investors and American business partners as well.”
Steffens, drawing on his experience working on energy projects in Ukraine and Russia, said he supports loan guarantees to support the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project.
“Traditionally, when you’re looking at a large-scale energy project, most of that project is going to be financed by debt. That’s the natural and established way to do it,” he said. “The more debt that you can get at low cost out of a government entity, the better it is for the project, because it means overall lower costs for consumers.”
Steffens, who was invited by the St. John’s Board of Trade to its open house this week, said he thinks it would be in the interest of the American government to get involved, through the U.S. Export Import Bank, in financing Muskrat Falls.
“If you look at it from the point of view of any lending authority, whether it’s a private sector lender or a public sector lender, any energy project has a very predictable return on investment. You can pretty much predict what people are going to pay for energy, which means it’s a good candidate for a long-term loan,” he said. “So it means it’s a good, fairly conservative candidate for a long-term loan. It means that you’re expanding sources of renewable energy supply, both for this region and for other regions. It also means you’re creating a great deal of employment for this region, and a great deal of employment throughout Canada and possibly some employment for the U.S. in making equipment and providing services.”
“I think first and foremost there’s got to be renewable energy with the big and very exciting projects you’re working on.” Richard Steffens
One obstacle to growing Canada-U.S. development, said Steffens, is that Canada has never been the “flavour of the month” for the American business community.
“The U.S. business community got all excited about what they call the BRIC — Brazil, Russia, India, China. Now, if you look at the overall statistics of U.S. exports to Canada, they are far larger than the BRIC, far larger than anything the BRIC is ever going to be. So one of my jobs is talking to U.S. companies and U.S. investors and waking them up to what’s going on in Canada and having U.S. companies realize this is a good place to do business and to invest, in the high-tech area, in the renewable energy area, and in many other areas; certainly aerospace is one to look at, manufacturing is one to look at.”
A further difficult for certain regions, said Steffen, is that investors — not just American ones, either — who do look north tend to look to Toronto first, then Montreal and then Vancouver, ignoring areas like Atlantic Canada.
“But what I’ve found any time I’ve gone to a country, is that usually the opportunities usually are the places people forget,” he said. “This is often where the best and most exciting opportunities are.”