Battle to become one of 5 federal superclusters attracts 50 competitors

By Andy BlatchfordOTTAWA — The competition to become one of up to five government-designated technology “superclusters” and draw from a federal funding purse of $950 million has attracted more than 50 proposals.The contest, a cornerstone of Ottawa’s so-called innovation agenda, is designed to encourage academia and businesses to work together on strategies to boost fast-growing sectors — everything from advanced manufacturing to clean technology.The number of bids generated during the competition’s first phase, which ended late last month, exceeded federal expectations, said a senior government official who spoke on condition on anonymity because the information was not yet public.The 50 letters of intent came from consortia representing a total of more than 200 companies and 20 post-secondary institutions, the official said.The contest, overseen by Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains, aims to lift the economy, promote research and create high-quality jobs. Bains has said he’s looking for ambitious bids that also feature intellectual property strategies designed to keep benefits for Canada.The plan includes a federal funding commitment of up to $950 million over five years to support the development of between three and five superclusters.As examples, the government listed six innovative industries in its spring budget that could anchor superclusters: advanced manufacturing, agri-food, clean technology, digital technology, health and bio-sciences and clean resources.The submissions represent each of these sectors and more, said the official, who declined to elaborate on the other industries.The government is also hoping the leverage from its $950-million commitment will lure even more private investment cash into the economy.To qualify, supercluster bids must show private-sector investment commitments of at least a dollar for every government dollar requested.Combined, the submitted proposals say they can bring in a total of $17 billion in private investment, even though they are asking for $10 billion in federal funding, the official added.“The policy imperative for this program was trying to unlock business investment in (research and development), which has been this perpetual issue in Canada” said the official.“This isn’t a silver bullet, but it’s a model to tackle that issue.”A short list of about a dozen applicants will be released in the coming weeks based on assessments by experts from across different government departments and agencies.Each submission will be evaluated on criteria such as job creation, how likely the new jobs will avoid becoming automated in the future and the proposal’s overall impact on the economy.The winners will be announced by early 2018.The program director for the Blockchain Research Institute, an organization that is participating in a supercluster proposal, said the bid received a total of $50 million in funding commitments from about 50 groups, including universities, private firms and non-governmental organizations.The submission is focused on making Canada a world leader in the development of the emerging digital platform known as “blockchain.” Blockchain is the underlying technology behind digital currencies like bitcoin and it has the potential to change everything from how financial transactions are conducted to how democracies vote.Jenna Pilgrim said Thursday that the goal of her group’s bid is to house the world’s best blockchain expertise in the Toronto-Waterloo region rather than watch it set up shop in Silicon Valley.She noted that $50 million in commitments is likely lower than other submissions, but adds it makes sense because the technology is still young. She also argues blockchain has more potential to become self supporting.There are also expectations that some groups jockeying for the limited number of supercluster spots might join forces as the process evolves and the list shortens.“We have been approached by several other organizations creating bids as well,” said Pilgrim, who believes blockchain will help enable other new “transformational” technologies like quantum computing and artificial intelligence.“We just want a seat at the table and then we are definitely open to collaborating with other groups.” read more

US global partners wrestle over trade stance

BADEN-BADEN, Germany – Top finance officials including new U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are debating what stance to take on free trade at a meeting that will help set the tone for the global economy.The gathering of finance ministers and central bank heads from the Group of 20 countries has focused on shifting attitudes toward trade, particularly after U.S. President Donald Trump vowed to impose border taxes and rewrite free trade deals he says have shortchanged the U.S.Mnuchin has said trade needs to be “fair,” which would be a step back from the group’s previous blanket condemnation of trade barriers.Attention at the two-day meeting in the German spa town of Baden-Baden has centred on a joint statement that is being prepared for Saturday.Early drafts have dropped an earlier ban on protectionism, but there was no agreement on what would replace it, said officials who briefed reporters Friday on condition of anonymity because the talks were ongoing.The meeting’s host, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, told reporters that the discussion was about “the right formulation regarding the openness of the world economy.”The last such gathering, in July 2016 in Chengdu, China, issued a strong statement in favour of free trade, saying “we will resist all forms of protectionism.” Possible replacements include support for “fairness.”Angel Gurria, secretary-general of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, downplayed differences over the exact language. The OECD is one of several international organizations invited to participate in the meeting.Gurria told The Associated Press it was “important to create a comfort zone” where leaders could have their first discussions with the new administration, “to make them feel that this is a place where we can talk, we can ventilate the areas where we have common ground and the areas where we may have differences.”European countries and others that depend on exports, such as China, were said to be pushing for a stronger statement in favour of trade with fewer tariffs and other barriers in a rule-based system.The gathering will help set the tone for international commerce and finance and will give Mnuchin a chance to clarify what the U.S. position is.The G-20 is an informal forum on economic co-operation made up of 19 countries with more than 80 per cent of the world economy, plus the European Union. The finance ministers’ meeting will pave the way for a summit of national leaders in Hamburg, Germany, on July 7-8.Trump has repeatedly emphasized that the U.S. needs a tougher approach to trade that would put American workers and companies first. He has already pulled the U.S. out of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement with Japan and other Pacific Rim countries and he has started the process to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada, both of whom are G-20 members.In a visit to Berlin ahead of the G-20 meeting, Mnuchin said the U.S. is interested in trade that is not only free but fair.“Our objective is getting more balanced trade agreements,” he said, confirming that having border taxes is an option. He said, without providing specifics, that some U.S. trade agreements need to be re-examined, while adding that, “It is not our desire to get into trade wars.”Mnuchin is scheduled to meet one-to-one with China’s Finance Minister Xiao Jie and central bank governor Zhou Xiaochuan.The G-20 meeting is taking place with the global economy in relatively good shape: the International Monetary Fund predicts growth of 3.4 per cent this year and 3.6 per cent next year, compared with 3.1 per cent last year.Yet the British vote last year to leave the European Union and Trump’s victory on an “America First” platform have underlined discontent with globalization, a sense among many that the benefits of a globalized economy — that is, with fewer barriers to trade and business — do not reach enough people.Advocates for free trade such as the IMF say that trade restrictions will only hurt growth and won’t benefit ordinary people, while urging measures to spread the benefits of trade more widely. That could include job training and education, since the IMF says trade and globalization have benefited higher-skilled workers. US, global partners wrestle over trade stance Japanese Finance Minister Taro Aso, left, and U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin meet for talks ahead of the G-20 Finance Ministers meeting in Baden-Baden, southern Germany, Friday, March 17, 2017. (Franziska Kraufmann/dpa via AP) by David McHugh, The Associated Press Posted Mar 17, 2017 3:30 am MDT Last Updated Mar 17, 2017 at 5:00 pm MDT AddThis Sharing ButtonsShare to TwitterTwitterShare to FacebookFacebookShare to RedditRedditShare to 電子郵件Email read more