BERLIN - Trade tensions may have dominated 2018, but the head of HSBC Bank Canada says international markets remain a key priority for the lender and its customers as the Canadian economy is expected to cool. “Even in a down economy, there’s still going to be opportunity,” said Sandra Stuart, president and chief executive of Vancouver-headquartered HSBC Bank Canada, the seventh-largest bank in the country, in a recent interview with the Financial Post. “If you look at our customers, they’ll tell you that either they’re in trade, they want to expand their trade, or they want to know about trade. So trade is absolutely an opportunity.” Stuart said the bank, a subsidiary of London-based lender HSBC Holdings plc, is “attuned” to the various trade developments, such as Brexit-related anxiety. The opportunities for HSBC, however, are on both the export and import fronts, such as customers looking to source more affordable materials from other countries or to branch out into new markets.

 “There’s definitely some headlines out there that would cause you consternation,” Stuart said. “But our view is that if you’re competitive, you’ve got good products and services, if you understand what your point of differentiation is, there’s opportunity to grow.”

The CEO’s comments come after a year of trade-related turmoil, including the NAFTA renegotiations, the imposition of tariffs and sabre-rattling by Beijing and Washington. Stuart’s remarks also came amid more recent tensions in global trade, namely China’s anger with Canada over its arrest of a major telecom executive.

Still, Canada at least has the new trade agreement with the U.S. and Mexico, as well as previous deals struck with the European Union and the Trans-Pacific Partnership countries. And, as noted by Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz in a year-end speech earlier this month, those trade risks can be “two-sided.”

 “The upside risk is that the United States and China come to terms, and the global economy enjoys a new source of lift,” Poloz said, according to a copy of his remarks.

Meanwhile, the motto for HSBC in Canada is that no domestic bank has its international footprint and no international competitor has its domestic presence.

Stuart also said they have seen growth in two of the key trade corridors the bank is particularly focused on: China and the United States.

 “I can tell you we have grown year-on-year in both corridors,” she said. “Trade continues to be picking up.”

Canada is a focus of HSBC’s global growth plans, and in October, HSBC Bank Canada reported a profit of $561 million for the nine months ended Sept. 30, up nearly nine per cent from the previous year.

Stuart, who has been in her current role for about three-and-a-half years, is expecting further investment in HSBC Bank Canada by its parent.

The CEO said the bank has also been gaining market share on the retail side of the business, where the lender has taken an aggressive approach to pricing at times, such as with mortgages.

 “We’re definitely hitting the mark on all of our growth initiatives,” Stuart said. “And so that will result in more investment next year, but it’ll moderate a bit.”

While the housing market has faced headwinds from interest-rate hikes and new regulation this year, Stuart said HSBC Bank Canada’s mortgage book has still grown, just not at the same pace as 2017.

 “We’re going to continue to be competitive on … retail banking,” she said.