Rita Dionne-Marsolais, Quebec's new Minister for Industry and Trade, discusses her department's wide-ranging role in today's global business environment

You have a wide-ranging portfolio. In what ways do the various aspects of your job complement each other?

My portfolio's mission covers the whole of Quebec's economic development. That includes industry and trade - including external trade, science, technology and tourism. All these different components must be integrated in development strategies. Every economic decision in today's knowledge-based economy must enhance the overall competitiveness of Quebec's economy.

What are your policy priorities in coming months?

Considering the continuing globalisation of the world economy, the government's priorities are two-fold: first, to balance the state budget; and second, to sustain economic growth. Hence, our policy priorities are: to focus industrial development strategies to increase the competitiveness of our industry; and to maintain our policies on more free trade between us and our partners in Canada, as well as in the Americas, Asia and Europe.

What part will your ministry play in balancing the state budget?

Our government is a strong supporter of private enterprise and free trade. My department will concentrate on creating favourable conditions to encourage private sector growth and strong employment. We will gradually reduce and finally eliminate direct financial aid to corporations, though our commitment to research and development will continue in the form of R & D tax credit in the spirit of World Trade Organisation (WTO) requirements.

According to the Bank of Canada, Quebec's economic growth halved between 1994 and 1995. What measures do you plan to address this fall?

Quebec's economy is very open: a third of our C$173 billion GDP depends upon exports, roughly 80 per cent of which go to the US. Overall exports have grown by 17 per cent over the past year. While our economy, like those in much of the developing world, is going through a period of restructuring, we plan to enhance our exports to other countries as well as the US, and to reduce unnecessary regulations, which impede business in the global economy.

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What are Quebec's main investment opportunities?

Our major investment opportunities are in high-tech industries, including biotechnology, telecommunications, pharmaceuticals and aerospace.

There have been reports that the sovereignty issue has damaged business confidence in Quebec. Is this the case?

Quebec has the seventh-largest GDP in the world. Our strong and diversified economy is modern, open to world markets and based on free-market principles. Our current discussions to redefine our relationship with the federal government reflect international changes. Quebec's spirit of sovereignty is designed to enhance the province's competitiveness on world markets, not reduce it. To achieve this, we need to focus our resources and invest for the development of our economy and its people. This implies full control of all our taxes. This at the heart of the current debate, and does not affect business confidence. In my view, the business climate in Quebec is among the best in Canada. We are committed to free trade, free enterprise and democracy. We work closely with our businesses to achieve success. International investors who work with us regularly recognise the efficient way in which we do business.

What measures do you plan to attract foreign investment?

We will continue to work toward restructuring Quebec's economy. Our R & D tax incentives are among the most competitive in North America for investment in high-technology sectors. Because this economy benefits from a well-educated and -trained workforce, investors in high-technology areas who need innovation and creativity are well-served here. Our university teachers are among the best in North America, and we also offer some of the best-trained technicians. Our corporate tax system is highly competitive.

What sectors of the economy do you see performing best in coming years?

Futurists believe that information technology, telecommunications and tourism are the industries of tomorrow. These are also areas in which Quebec is highly competitive in North America, and we intend to keep our competitive edge. We will focus on keeping our fiscal policies on a par with our competitors, and harmonising our regulations in the spirit of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Sectors in these emerging industries are already well-established in Quebec: 12.3 per cent of Quebec's production comes from high-technology sectors - which compares favourably with a G-5 average of 12.5 per cent. Quebec will continue to encourage growth in all these sectors. Quebec also enjoys competitive advantages in more established industries, such as aerospace, metals, transport equipment and electrical equipment. I have full confidence in the innovative spirit of Quebec's entrepreneurs. There is a lot of talent in Quebec. I believe that, by identifying profitable niches, embracing new technologies and sharpening our competitive skills, all sectors will realise their potential. My department is committed to opening doors for these companies by providing them with all the support they need to compete in today's world markets.

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