By signing the Nov. 30, 2015 “friendly exchange agreement” with Qinhuangdao, Terrace joins a long list of municipalities across North American to partner up in some fashion with a municipal or other level of government in China.
The next level up from what Terrace signed is called a “twin sister agreement” and this involves the participation of the central Chinese government, according to city information.
But what Terrace signed is between just two local governments and is, in fact, the first such friendship agreement signed between that particular Chinese city and a municipality in B.C., said chief administrative officer Heather Avison.
Five other B.C. municipalities have twinning agreements with Chinese municipalities, a list that includes Prince Rupert which did its deal in 1992. Its twin is Cangzhou, a city located in Hebei province, the same province in which Qinhuangdao is located.
According to Terrace mayor Carol Leclerc, Qinhuangdao has a sister city relationship with Toledo, Ohio. That city was on the itinerary of the officials from Qinhuangdao who were here for the Nov. 30 Terrace signing. Toledo has embraced such agreements, signing ones with local governments in Lebanon, Germany, Poland, India, Pakistan and Hungary in addition to Qinhuangdao.
In signing the local agreement, Terrace city council is expecting to strengthen ties with the city which contains the economic development entity that through a Burnaby company bought 1,188 acres of the Skeena Industrial Development Park last year.
The agreement makes no reference to that agreement but does anticipate exchanges “in the fields of economy and trade, science, education, culture, sports, and travel and visitation, to promote common prosperity and development.”
The agreement signed between the Qinhuangdao municipal officials and Terrace city officials also says the friendly exchange is based on “equality and mutual benefit,” but what that entails is not clearly defined.
“It’s like a twin sister kind of agreement. I know Quesnel had them in the past and I remember the provincial government was promoting this last time I was on council,” said Leclerc.
“It’s at a local level,” she said.
“This is just the very start of it. I think there will be people from the [Qinhuangdao Economic and Technological Development Zone] coming to Terrace next year, and council will make a trip to Qinhuangdao either in 2016 or 2017,” said Leclerc using the formal name of the entity now involved in Terrace’s business future.
“It would be great if we could bring the college and if there are any business people who wanted to forge a relationship,” she added.
Agreement decided in a closed council session
HE CITY’S decision to sign a cultural and economic exchange agreement with Qinhuangdao, China was undertaken at an Aug. 10 in-camera meeting and away from public view.
When asked why, city councillors and Mayor Carol Leclerc ultimately deferred to city officials who provided a section of the Community Charter by which municipalities are governed.
That section allows private discussion concerning “negotiations and related discussions form the proposed provision of a municipal service that are at their preliminary stages and that, in the view of council, could reasonably be expected to harm the interest of the municipality if they were held in public.”
But the agreement doesn’t contain any details of any dealings with the Qinhuangdao economic entity which through a Burnaby company now controls nearly 1,200 acres of land at the city’s Skeena Industrial Development Park.
Of the agreement itself, councillor James Cordeiro called signing it a matter of “politeness” and that there was “no inkling of consequence other that being polite to them” in reference to Qinghuangdao.
“In no way does it confer special treatment,” Cordeiro added of the potential for factories to be located on the Chinese-owned industrial park land to receive any city incentives or benefits.
The Aug. 10 in-camera vote was unanimous in information released by the city.
Councillor Brian Downie said that all city meetings relating to key deals should be held in private by council.
“I would think the negotiation of an agreement in general, whether for land or other [kinds of] agreements would fall to in-camera,” said Brian Downie.
The idea for what became the “friendly exchange agreement” of Nov. 30 began with a suggestion from Richard Zhang with Taisheng Investments, the company through which Qinhuangdao made its purchase of the Skeena Industrial Development Park land.
“We are proud to be the first Canadian city that they chose to enter into an agreement with,” said Avison of Qinhuangdao.
The city had considered such an arrangement as early as 2008 but had no connection with any government in China then, she said.
That’s now changed because of the industrial land deal and signing the agreement then made sense, she added.