TRURO – There must be a “revolution in mental geography” if Atlantic Canada is to take advantage of emerging global trade patterns, says the head of an East Coast think tank.

“We have to change the map we have in our heads,” Brian Lee Crowley told members of a transportation conference in Truro. “The East Coast of North America is on the Pacific rim. The water that laps on our shores reaches unbroken to Asia.”

Crowley, head of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, said Thursday the new map that will define economic development in the region extends beyond national boundaries to include Atlantic Canada, the southern coast of the St. Lawrence River, and the Northeastern United States from the Atlantic Ocean to Lake Erie. The northeastern economic region has been dubbed Atlantica by its proponents.

“We are now in a strategic position in the world trading routes,” he said.

Changing the mindset from current trade patterns may be difficult, but it’s not unheard of. For example, said Crowley, the “Silk Road” from China to Europe brought wealth to many nations along the route but when navigation breakthroughs allowed shipping to be more economical and reliable, that changed the fortunes of Britain from being on the margins of the European economy to its centre.

A similar technological change is now happening in the world’s shipping lanes, said Crowley. Freighters are now being built that are too large for the Panama Canal and within the next five years more than 80 “post-panamax” ships will add 50 per cent to the world-wide shipping capacity.

With western and eastern seaports either running at capacity or too shallow for the large vessels, the Port of Halifax is a natural choice – if only the transportation links to the large American market were well-developed.

“If Halifax is poorly connected to the rest of North America, so are you,” said Crowley.

So, interest groups have been lobbying the United States and Canadian governments to establish viable trade links from Halifax to Chicago.

“Is anybody outside the region listening? Absolutely.”

United States Congressional high-priority transportation corridors generally run north-south to reflect the impact of the North America Free Trade Agreement, he said, but a route from Halifax, to Calais, Maine through the hinterland to a town near Cornwall, Ont., is now being considered.

But the time to act is now, said Crowley, because the opportunity to be linked to a busy trade corridor is fleeting.

Already, the Mexican government has committed $1 billion to a deepwater port on the Pacific Coast which has transportation links right to Kansas City, Missouri. There, the Mexican government is building a customs office, which Crowley believes is the first of its kind not on Mexican soil.

To read more stories from the Truro Daily News, click here.