By Andrea MacDonald

Trade barriers really starting getting to Hanspeter Stutz a few years ago.

The owner of the Grand Pre winery in the Annapolis Valley, Stutz sent an application to the New Brunswick liquor commission for what he figured was a no-brainer. He wanted to be able to sell his hard apple cider in their stores.

Stutz wasn’t expecting the response he got. After all, he reasoned, this was a healthy farm product from a neighouring province, made from 100 per cent pure apples and containing low alcohol. But the commission turned him down with no explanation, he told a crowd of about 200 at the Atlantica 2007 conference yesterday in Halifax.

Stutz was speaking at a tourism industry session on the controversial economic zone of Atlantic Canada, eastern Quebec and the northeastern United States. He said he believes that at the very least, the Atlantic provinces should work together to promote the region as an international culinary destination.

“Let us work on these stupid rules and regulations here in domestic Canada,” Stutz told the business audience. Wineries attract tourists, but it’s up to the owners to educate the visitors – who want to see local products on the menu – on things like food and wine pairings, he said.

“If you visit Italy, Tuscany … and you order the wine in a restaurant, you get a recommendation for a Tuscany wine. If you visit a restaurant in Atlantic Canada and you order the Digby scallops, you will probably get a recommendation for a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand or a Chardonnay from Chile.

“Why not a beautiful L’Acadie Blanc from our region?”

Dennis Campbell, president and CEO of Ambassatours Gray Line in Halifax, said he managed to pick up 60 per cent of the cruise-ship business in this market after bombarding the operators with handwritten postcards in red ink, a tip he’d picked up from a direct-marketing seminar.

Mark MacDonald, president and CEO of Bay Ferries Ltd., said he is pleased that Atlantica is a fact of life, but said it’s still an uphill battle. Even today, he said, it’s a lot easier to persuade someone from Prince Edward Island to visit Nova Scotia than it is to persuade someone from Arizona or Texas.

Wrapping up the 2007 Atlantica Conference yesterday, outgoing chairman Stephen Dempsey said the Atlantic Provinces Chambers of Commerce has set its course for the next year.

“Big ideas take time and enormous effort to realize,” he said. “The exciting news is that we are making progress and our next step is already set in motion.”

Incoming Atlantica chairman Jonathan Daniels said he is enthusiastic about the challenge of leading the organization.

“I see a dual role for APCC as we continue to provide leadership and support the Atlantica concept while also supporting and strengthening the local chamber networks within the region.”

Organizers said the 2007 Atlantica conference identified significant opportunities for economic growth and co-operation as a result of the region’s natural assets, geography and the emergence of India as a major international trading nation and the proximity of East Coast ports to the Indian sub-continent via the Suez Canal.