Canada Pushes For Trade Talks With China As NAFTA In Jeopardy

In an attempt to kick start formal trade talks with the Chinese government, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has left his trade minister in Beijing during his current tour of that country.

Canadian Trade Minister François-Philippe Champagne was scheduled to travel to the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou with the Prime Minister on Tuesday to take part in an international trade conference. But, at the last minute, it was decided that Minister Champagne would remain in Beijing to try and reach an agreement to begin formal trade talks with Chinese government officials.

The move came a day after Prime Minister Trudeau announced that efforts by the Canadian government to begin trade talks with China failed due to several sticking points, including human rights, gender issues and the rule of law. The Prime Minister is eager to begin talks aimed at reaching a free trade deal with China as it looks increasingly likely that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with the U.S. and Mexico is going to be terminated by the U.S. government.

“We will continue to deal with multiple different ways of benefiting our two countries as we work together, whether or not there are formal negotiations or exploratory talks,” Prime Minister Trudeau said at a news conference. “We are constantly engaged with our Chinese counterparts to ensure there are opportunities for our citizens.”

The Canadian Prime Minister met Monday with both Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and President Xi Jinping in Beijing, and pushed hard to start trade talks between the two countries. The sticking points in starting talks with China centre on Canada's insistence that labour and gender rights be part of any deal. Prime Minister Trudeau acknowledged that trade progress with China is now being measured in a series of individual agreements that will, for example, increase Canadian exports of beef and canola, and improve bilateral co-operation in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The president of the Canola Council of Canada, Jim Everson, told reporters in Beijing that it's important to move ahead on a trade deal despite the current stalemate over talks, as the Chinese market is just as important to Canadian businesses as the U.S. market.

“If we can have a predictable and tariff-free environment, the growth we've seen in the U.S. — and it's been substantial — for the canola industry, it would be the same with China,” he said.