building more, stronger relations
By Emily Innes
Due to the continual strengthening of bilateral relations between Canada and Poland there has been renewed interest in the Canada-Poland Chamber of Commerce of Toronto (CCT), according to the chairman of the board.
“There was a visit (to Canada) from the Prime Minister of Poland, a few years back and the Prime Minister of Canada (Stephen Harper) was in Poland twice recently,” said Wojciech Śniegowski, who is Chairman of the Board for the Canada-Poland CCT. “When there was a G-7 Summit meeting he was also visiting Poland. So there is a much better relationship between the governments and because of that and the adoption in principle of the Canada and European Comprehensive Trade Agreement that all sort of brings more attention to Poland as one of the EU countries.”
Former Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s visit to Canada in 2012 led to the signing of a new tax convention that will reduce tax barriers and encourage increased trade and investment between the two countries.
The Canada-Poland CCT was formed in June of 1994 to assist Poland, which as of 1990 was transitioning from the communist dominance of the Polish People’s Republic since 1945 to a market economy. The chamber is dedicated to the promotion, development, and expansion of business, trade, and investment opportunities between Canada and Poland. Its other role is to develop relationships and networking opportunities with ethnic business organizations in Canada. In 2005, Canada-Poland CCT became a member of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in Toronto.
“After the initial interest from Canadian businesses in Poland, (engagement) sort of subsided for a number of years,” said Śniegowski. “There were a number of issues because Poland was still very fresh after the coming out of communism so there were a number of issues that were not resolved quite yet. That is why I think that our activities for a long time were very minimal. But this has changed recently.”
Membership is on the rise
The Canada-Poland CCT has been hosting an increasing number of events and membership has been growing in recent years, Śniegowski said. While lately there have been more than 200 people in attendance at events, the Canada-Poland CCT estimates its official membership at around 130 members.
“The majority of our members are of Polish descent but there is no requirement to be of Polish descent to be a member,” said Śniegowski. “It is for whomever is interested in the Polish market can be a member, no problem.”
The organization’s members are primarily from Toronto but also from other locations in southern Ontario such as Barrie and Mississauga. “We are thinking about maybe becoming a little bigger representation and we will be working on that in the future. But for now we are mostly in the (Greater Toronto Area),” he said.
The organization is the only officially structured Canada-Poland Chamber of Commerce in the country, but Śniegowski noted that there are some people in Calgary who help with the businesses of Polish Canadians.
Śniegowski recognizes a great opportunity for growth as he pointed out that there are 900,000 Polish Canadians living across the country — 360,000 in southern Ontario and 60,000 in Toronto alone. It is a very diverse group of individuals who work in a variety of different industries.
Annual networking event and other activities
The Canada-Poland CCT, collaborating with the Consulate General of the Republic of Poland in Toronto and the Trade Commissioner of the Republic of Poland, hosts two annual summer and winter networking events.
“They are 100-per-cent networking (events),” said Śniegowski. “They are for members and their guests, and hopefully, we are (attracting) new members through those events. But also to live up to our main function of allowing people to develop new contacts and hopefully new business.”
A new event that the chamber has begun hosting is the Canada-Poland Chamber of Commerce Excellence Awards Gala. “We came up with the idea of rewarding people who have some contribution in the business world and they put forth the good name of Polish people,” said Śniegowski. “And if you are a company that has dealings with Poland we will be recognizing them as well. That also gives us some interest from outside of our membership.”
The Canada-Poland CCT also hosts seminars in cooperation with the Consulate General of the Republic of Poland and the office of the Trade Commissioner of the Republic of Poland. Some of the prominent guests that they have addressed their members include Stockwell Day, Minister of International Trade and Minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway; Jason Kenney, Minister of National Defence and Multiculturalism; John Wilkinson, Ontario Minister of Revenue; Peter Van Loan, Minister of International Trade; Marek Sawicki, Minister of Agriculture of the Republic of Poland; and Lisa Raitt, Minister of Transport.
Future plans for the Canada-Poland CCT
Upcoming plans for the Canada-Poland CCT include increasing communication efforts. “We have five new members already active in our committees and they are young and they are very committed to work on it and they know about social media,” said Śniegowski. The Chamber is now on Facebook, Twitter (@canadapolandcct), YouTube, and LinkedIn.
According to Śniegowski, the organization wants to also grow their membership to about 400 members over the next couple of years, which he believes is a realistic plan.
More information can be found at www.canada-poland.com.