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Westport, Cummins thriving with natural gas engine business in China

VANCOUVER -- David Demers says he is embarrassed by all the attention he is getting for his success at selling natu...

VANCOUVER — David Demers says he is embarrassed by all the attention he is getting for his success at selling natural gas engines to China, according to a recent story published by The Globe and Mail.

“It’s embarrassing that when Canada is looking for China success stories we come to the top of the list,” he told the Globe. “We’ve got big ambitions, but we’re a tiny company.”

After five or six years in China, Westport and its US partner, Cummins Inc., have equipped about 3,500 Beijing buses with natural gas engines, part of an effort by the Chinese government to clean up the capital’s foul air for the Olympic Games in August. Westport’s annual take from doing business in Asia has yet to crest $10-million.

Yet as excitement rises about the business potential of helping China fight its massive pollution problem, authorities in this country are showcasing Westport as an example of what a Canadian company can do. B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell sang the company’s praises during a trade promotion trip to Asia in May. “Everyone has mentioned the environment,” Campbell said during that trip. “There are big, big opportunities here.”

The problem is that Canadian companies aren’t seizing those opportunities, according to Demers. With thriving enviro-tech companies and a reputation as a green land of open spaces, Canada should be leading the drive to break into the environmental market in China. Instead, it is losing out to other, more aggressive countries, according to some critics.

Yet only a handful of companies most of them as small, or even, smaller than Westport have won environmental business in China. The failure to make much progress in the environmental business is especially disappointing for B.C., which has made increasing trade with Asia a cornerstone of its economic strategy under the B.C. Liberals. The province’s Asia Pacific Trade Council, which finished its work a year ago, identified environmental technologies as one of the most promising sectors for B.C. companies.

–with files from The Globe and Mail

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