Trade talks with China com­pli­cated process: Trudeau

Waterloo Region Record - - LOCAL - Mike Blanchfield

GUANGZHOU, CHINA — Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau de­parted China on Thurs­day with­out se­cur­ing the start of free trade talks with the world’s sec­ond-largest econ­omy, but said Cana­di­ans need to lower their ex­pec­ta­tions about just how quick that will hap­pen.

Trudeau said dif­fer­ences need to be ad­dressed on how Canada deals with China’s state-owned en­ter­prises. Sep­a­rately, he also said he is com­mit­ted to stand­ing up for Cana­dian val­ues in a “re­spect­ful way,” in­clud­ing pro­tect­ing the in­ter­ests of Cana­di­ans be­hind bars.

“Cana­di­ans should be un­der no il­lu­sions that a free trade deal with China will be easy,” Trudeau told re­porters be­fore re­turn­ing to Canada af­ter a four-day visit.

Be­fore agree­ing to for­mally start talks, the gov­ern­ment wants China to agree to a broad frame­work that will in­cor­po­rate its so-called pro­gres­sive trade agenda, which would for­mally place the en­vi­ron­ment, labour, gen­der and gov­er­nance is­sues on the bar­gain­ing ta­ble.

Trudeau ac­knowl­edged that the two coun­tries have a lot of work to do to “in­ter­face” their dif­fer­ent sys­tems in a way that is “mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial” — a phrase the Chi­nese are fond of us­ing. He said the two coun­tries have al­ready had good suc­cess in part­ner­ing on the en­vi­ron­ment.

Trudeau sug­gested that get­ting China to agree to other parts of his pro­gres­sive agenda isn’t an in­sur­mount­able chal­lenge.

“Trade has been an es­sen­tial el­e­ment in their suc­cess in lift­ing hun­dreds of mil­lions of peo­ple out of poverty and into the global mid­dle class.”

In­ter­na­tional Trade Min­is­ter Fran­cois-Philippe Cham­pagne stayed be­hind in Bei­jing to con­tinue dis­cus­sions over the last two days while Trudeau trav­elled south to China’s in­dus­trial heart­land to at­tend the For­tune Global Fo­rum, a ma­jor gath­er­ing of in­ter­na­tional chief ex­ec­u­tives, which Canada will host next year.

Cham­pagne was due to re­turn to Canada on Thurs­day with Trudeau, leav­ing the trade dis­cus­sions stalled at the ex­ploratory phase.

“There was good progress made and we ex­pect that work to con­tinue in the weeks ahead,” said his spokesper­son, Joe Pick­er­ill.

Trudeau ac­knowl­edged that dif­fi­cult talks lie ahead in ad­dress­ing con­cerns when Chi­nese sta­te­owned com­pa­nies try to buy Cana­dian firms.

The gov­ern­ment faced crit­i­cism for al­low­ing the takeover of Nor­sat by Chi­nese-based Hytera Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Co. Ltd. with­out a full na­tional se­cu­rity re­view. Van­cou­ver-based Nor­sat makes ra­dio sys­tems and trans­ceivers used by the Amer­i­can mil­i­tary and other NATO part­ners.

And it is now weigh­ing a pro­posal by a Chi­nese firm to buy the Cana­dian con­struc­tion com­pany, Ae­con, which has been in­volved in land­mark projects like the CN Tower.

He said fu­ture dis­cus­sions would “re­flect on the chal­lenges, the op­por­tu­ni­ties, the ad­van­tages, the in­con­ve­nience when two sys­tems that are dif­fer­ent try to col­lab­o­rate so we can cre­ate ben­e­fits for both groups of cit­i­zens.”

As Trudeau trav­elled back to Canada, an­a­lysts were un­der­whelmed by what he ac­com­plished in China.

“The visit seemed strangely un­pre­pared,” said Wendy Dob­son, co-di­rec­tor of the Rot­man School of Man­age­ment at the Uni­ver­sity of Toronto, who called the trip “a missed op­por­tu­nity to deepen the relationship and di­ver­sify our mar­kets.”

Paul Evans, an Asia ex­pert at the Uni­ver­sity of Bri­tish Columbia, said the trip was “suc­cess­ful in the min­i­mal­ist sense” be­cause it man­aged to ful­fil a com­mit­ment by both sides to hold a lead­ers’ meet­ing each year.

Wen­ran Jiang, di­rec­tor of the Canada-China En­ergy and En­vi­ron­ment Fo­rum, said the de­lay in for­mally start­ing the talks “will only fur­ther con­vince the Chi­nese side that Canada can’t get any­thing done.”

“We can’t build a pipe­line to the west coast when ev­ery rea­son is there to get it done,” he added.

“We are a coun­try of com­pla­cency, with­out pres­sure to com­pete with oth­ers; we tend to think we have all the high moral grounds on gen­der, en­vi­ron­ment, labour while oth­ers are in­fe­rior to us.”

De­spite the dif­fer­ences on trade, Trudeau was warmly wel­comed by Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping and Pre­mier Li Ke­qiang in Bei­jing, as well as var­i­ous other Chi­nese of­fi­cials. Trudeau re­turned the sen­ti­ment, re­peat­edly re­fer­ring to his trav­els 22 years ago as a stu­dent back­packer.

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