Canada, China Pledge to Ramp Up Trade Cooperation, Weigh Possible FTA Talks

7 December 2017

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang finished highly-anticipated meetings in Beijing this week, announcing “new joint partnerships” and a joint statement on climate change, while pledging to continue discussions over whether to launch negotiations for a free trade deal.

The exploratory talks for the potential launch of formal trade talks began just over a year ago, with both sides confirming a goal to double trade between them by the year 2025. Since then, the trading partners have been conducting domestic preparations, which for Canada included public consultations with various stakeholders to help shape its negotiating objectives. (See Bridges Weekly, 26 September 2016 and 9 March 2017)

“While in Beijing, Premier Li and I had discussions on a range of issues, from growing trade and investment, to combating climate change, to the importance of free expression. I look forward to continuing discussions towards a comprehensive trade agreement, which will open up greater opportunities for people on both sides of the Pacific,” said Trudeau after the meeting.

Li said that the bilateral relationship is in the “golden age,” and urged continued cooperation between their economies.

“China stands ready for an open and candid discussion toward a free trade agreement with Canada, and both China and Canada are willing to jointly facilitate free trade and investment,” Li said, according to China Daily, a local media outlet.

Among the issues reportedly raised in Beijing were how to address issues such as labour and gender in a future agreement. These are among the topics that emerged as areas of interest both in Ottawa’s public consultations with stakeholders, along with the structure of China’s economy, and have also been raised as national priorities by top Canadian officials.

“With China, as with all of our trading partners, we are committed to pursuing trade that benefits everyone, that puts people first and reflects Canadian values, especially when it comes to the environment, labour, and gender,” says the official press release from the Canadian prime minister.

Meanwhile, Chinese officials pledged to continue its efforts at greater international engagement, including in the economic sphere, both in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond. “China will open its door even wider to the outside world,” said Li, according to China’s government news outlet Xinhua.

“China’s business environment will get better and better, and China will continue to be a hot destination for international investments,” he added.

Despite the decision not to launch formal talks at this stage, leaders on both sides expressed optimism that the negotiations will go ahead. “We believe that, done properly, a trade agreement would benefit both countries, creating jobs, strengthening the middle class and growing our economies,” Trudeau said

“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,” Canada’s prime minister added, according to comments reported by CBC News.

Climate statement

The two leaders also issued a joint statement on climate change and clean growth, pledging to increase cooperation both bilaterally and on the wider international stage, in the context of the UN climate process.

“Environmental protection is key to our progressive trade agenda and will provide even greater opportunities for businesses to provide innovative solutions for clean air, water, and soil that will lead to good, middle-class jobs and prosperity in both countries,” said Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna after the meeting.

The two countries have agreed to set up formal dialogues between their climate and energy ministers, along with reaffirming their commitment towards a low-carbon transition and the full implementation of the UN’s Paris Agreement. (See Bridges Weekly, 8 June 2017)

ICTSD reporting; “Free trade studies agreed on as Li meets with Canadian PM Trudeau,” CHINA DAILY, 5 December 2017; “Trudeau says he raised human rights, death penalty, in meeting with Chinese premier,” TORONTO STAR, 5 December 2017; “Trudeau set to meet China’s ‘paramount leader’ as free trade talks fail to emerge in Beijing,” TORONTO STAR, 4 December 2017; “China, Canada agree to issue joint statement on climate change,” XINHUA, 5 December 2017; “With no formal trade talks, Trudeau leaves international trade minister in Beijing,” CBC NEWS, 5 December 2017.

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