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Catering to the rich

Trade mission highlights

Richard Gleeson
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Dec 07/01) - Adventure travel, big diamonds and fine furs -- the North sells the kind of things people with lots of cash like to buy.

That was at least part of the thinking going into last week's "Team Canada" trade mission to a couple of the world capitals of conspicuous consumption -- Dallas and Los Angeles.

Stephen Kakfwi: "I haven't sold a real item in my life."

The highlight of the show was a three-hour fur, diamond and cultural extravaganza.

"There are more millionaires per capita in Dallas than anywhere else in the world, so that was certainly a market we were playing to there," said Gabriela Sparling. Sparling was part of the team that organized the Northwest Territories presentations.

Three fur coats were bought off the shoulders of the models at the fashion show. Arslanian Cutting Works NWT also signed a multimillion-dollar memorandum of understanding with a New York jeweller who took in the show.

Premier Stephen Kakfwi led the NWT delegation. He admitted he doesn't have the kind of sales skills you need to move large volumes of used cars, let alone diamonds.

"On specific things, I haven't sold a real item in my life," Kakfwi said. "But as far as getting the major companies -- whether it's Rio Tinto or De Beers or Conoco or BP -- to pay attention to the Northwest Territories, I think I've been very successful."

Along with Kakfwi were Resources, Wildlife and Economic Development deputy minister Bob McLeod and chief of staff Lynda Sorensen.

In addition to Arslanian, the business delegation included Deton'Cho Diamonds, BHP, Shehtah Drilling, True North Safaris, NWT Arctic Wilderness Tours, Canadian Arctic Trading Ltd.

Kakfwi noted that all such Canadian trade missions include the unspoken advantage of access to the prime minister.

"It gives you access, almost daily access, to the prime minister and to the ministers that travel with him and their staff," Kakfwi said.

"It also gives you access to a friendly relationship to all the premiers and all the staff that accompany the premiers."

The cost to taxpayers for the NWT's participation in the event was not available by deadline.