Business leaders in one of Canada’s main points of international trade are pushing for a foreign trade zone designation that could give Sarnia a leg up on attracting businesses and trade by allowing certain tax exemptions on imported and exported goods.
The trade zone would turn the border city in a de facto trade hub eligible for certain tax exemptions where importers and exporters can distribute and turn over raw and finished goods alike. The plan to establish a foreign trade zone, similar to those already in Windsor and the Greater Niagara region, received Lambton County council’s blessing last week.
It will still take months to establish — if the economic development group FedDev Ontario approves the application. Local Chamber of Commerce head Shirley de Silva says she is confident that will happen.
“This foreign trade designation would be a starting point,” de Silva said. “Our application is already ready to go; we just wanted to make sure we had the support of the county.”
It’s the latest in a years-long process that started in 2017, at which time the Sarnia chamber co-lead a joint task force to look into expanding trade in the border city. They saw “a lot of potential” in Lambton County, de Silva said, as one of the main trade routes between Canada and the United States.
Stephen Thompson, chief executive officer with the Sarnia Lambton Economic Partnership, said a foreign trade designation will help draw other businesses to Lambton County.
“It’s a process to get the designation,” Thompson said, adding the foreign trade zone is expected to “save time and expenses” for businesses interested in coming to the Sarnia area.
The local chamber of commerce is also in talks with Lambton College about kick-starting a certification program based around the foreign trade zone. The college could be a good source of skilled labour tailored to the needs of an international hub, de Silva said, adding to Sarnia’s appeal as a prime business destination.
Because the application process can take up to a year to complete the business task force hopes to submit with FedDev before the end of July, de Silva said.