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Trade & Investment

China must get better on human rights before Canada will sign a trade deal

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Ottawa on June 1, 2016.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Ottawa on June 1, 2016.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wants to establish closer relations with China but, citing human rights and governance concerns, won’t rush into a free trade agreement with the superpower.

Trudeau, in an exclusive interview in Vancouver, struck a cautious tone when asked how he will proceed with one of his most delicate foreign policy challenges.

“I don’t think an FTA is something to rush,” Trudeau said when asked if he hopes to strike a trade deal prior to the end of his first term in 2019.

Trudeau made clear that Canada will need to see improvements in human rights, as well as assurances that Canadian companies operating in China will be treated fairly.

“I think it’s certainly a goal to look towards, but there’s an awful lot of work to do to get towards that, whether it’s on human rights and governance issues, whether it’s on respect for the rule of law around Canadian investments” in China.

“Canada and China have a long and storied relationship that goes back decades, and I certainly hope we’re going to be able to benefit from that friendship.”

He said he has constantly raised human rights issues in meetings with his Chinese counterparts, as well as express concerns about consular cases such as the detention of Canadian Kevin Garratt for allegedly spying while in China.

Trudeau said Canada can advance those issues while still seeking to improve trade and investment activity.

“We certainly hope to create a relationship” that generates more Canadian jobs through exports to China’s massive and growing middle class, he said during a two-day visit to Vancouver to announce transit funding and meet experts to discuss the affordable housing crisis.

“As every country around the world is realising, this is a challenge. This is a country with a massive amount of weight but also a lot of work still to do on a number of issues that are important to us.”

Top Chinese officials, pointing to Pierre Trudeau’s bold decision in 1970 to recognise the Chinese Communist regime, have made glowing comments about the prospects of Canada-China relations after Pierre Trudeau’s eldest son replaced Stephen Harper as prime minister in 2015.

The Vancouver-based Asia-Pacific Foundation of Canada has documented over several years a cooling public attitude towards China due to issues such as human rights abuses, attempts by Chinese state-owned companies to buy major energy industry assets and China’s sometimes belligerent foreign policy.

In addition to launching free trade talks, several experts have suggested that Canada could improve relations by agreeing to participate in the $US 100 billion China-led Asian Infrastructure Development Bank. Many European countries, like Germany and the United Kingdom, are founding members, but the U.S. isn’t.

Again, Trudeau discussed Canada’s participation in cautious tones.

“I know that’s something that’s been discussed, the fact is that we need to ensure that we’re holding China to the kinds of standards that the international community and international organizations have long developed,” he said.

“And as we look at the Asian Infrastructure Bank as a way of drawing Canadian capital and investment and opportunities in Asia, it’s something we have to reflect carefully on and engage with both our allies and our friends on.”

A Liberal attempt to improve relations after a decade of inconsistent engagement from the former Conservative government wasn’t helped by the recent behaviour of a visiting senior Chinese official in Ottawa.

Chinese Foreign Affairs Minister Wang Yi berated a reporter for asking about the recent increase in human rights abuses as well as controversy over China’s aggressive territorial claims in the South China Sea. He called the questions “unacceptable” and “irresponsible.”

The prime minister has also tripped up in the past on China, once saying he admired the dictatorship’s ability to take swift policy initiatives.

That was presumably one of the reasons Trudeau played down his China ambitions prior to last fall’s federal election, and didn’t mention the country in his mandate letter to Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion.

China-watchers in Canada’s academic community, some of whom have offered advice to the federal government, have speculated that the Trudeau government will take a major step forward to improve relations at the G20 Summit in Hangzhou, China in September.

Source: National Post – China must get better on human rights before Canada will sign a trade deal: Trudeau


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