Fed­eral re­port out­lines hopes, skep­ti­cism on free trade with China

Northern News (Kirkland Lake) - - NATIONAL NEWS -

OT­TAWA — A sweep­ing fed­eral re­port shows that Cana­dian busi­nesses aren’t sure a free trade pact will solve all the con­cerns they have about deal­ing with China.

The newly re­leased re­port sum­ma­rizes the is­sues that more than 600 busi­nesses, aca­demics and civil so­ci­ety groups be­lieved must be re­solved be­fore Canada signs a free trade deal with China.

Among those con­cerns was that fur­ther lib­er­al­iz­ing trade could kill Cana­dian busi­nesses and jobs as com­pa­nies can’t com­pete be­cause of lax labour stan­dards, lower en­vi­ron­men­tal re­quire­ments, and state sub­si­dies in China, the re­port says.

These Cana­dian groups were adamant that fail­ing to ad­dress these is­sues would only fur­ther the hol­low­ing out of the Cana­dian man­u­fac­tur­ing sec­tor.

There was skep­ti­cism that a free trade deal could “mean­ing­fully ad­dress the full spec­trum of chal­lenges faced by Cana­dian busi­nesses trad­ing with China,” the re­port said.

Stake­hold­ers said any trade pact needed a ro­bust dis­pute res­o­lu­tion mech­a­nism to ease con­cerns about the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment’s “will­ing­ness or abil­ity” to ad­here to obli­ga­tions un­der any fu­ture agree­ment.

China is the world’s sec­ond­largest econ­omy, and al­ready a top trad­ing coun­try for Canada.

Widen­ing that trade re­la­tion­ship has been the sub­ject of ex­ploratory talks this year, which the gov­ern­ment de­scribes as a way to “test the wa­ters” to see if there is enough com­mon ground to launch full-fledged ne­go­ti­a­tions.

Cana­dian busi­nesses are in­ter­ested in a free trade deal with China to help them com­pete with com­peti­tors in coun­tries like Aus­tralia, New Zealand and Korea that have un­fet­tered ac­cess to the Chi­nese mar­ket.

The con­sul­ta­tion re­port says the gains for do­mes­tic com­pa­nies could boost the for­tunes of farm­ers, fish and seafood pro­duc­ers, as well as ad­vanced man­u­fac­tur­ing, tourism, and ser­vice in­dus­tries.

Chi­nese of­fi­cials have in­di­cated pub­licly they are in no rush to sign an agree­ment, sug­gest­ing the big win­ner would be Cana­dian busi­nesses who could ac­cess a coun­try with 1.3 bil­lion peo­ple, while Chi­nese busi­nesses would have ac­cess to a coun­try of 36 mil­lion.

For­mer in­terim Con­ser­va­tive leader Rona Am­brose and ex-in­dus­try min­is­ter James Moore, both mem­bers of the Trudeau gov­ern­ment’s NAFTA ad­vi­sory panel, warned the Lib­er­als that they risk an­ger­ing U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump if they pur­sue free trade talks with China. Trump has a his­tory of anti-China rhetoric.

The con­sul­ta­tion re­port showed the same con­cerns from stake­hold­ers who were ner­vous balanc­ing free trade talks with China and sep­a­rately with the United States, “in light of U.S. con­cerns with Chi­nese steel over­ca­pac­ity and un­fair trade prac­tices.”

AN­DREW VAUGHAN/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Lu Shaye, Am­bas­sador of the Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of China to Canada, ad­dresses the me­dia dur­ing a visit to Hal­i­fax last week.

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