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Li Keqiang

China, Canada mull free trade talks, to deepen commercial ties

Announcements made during Premier Li Keqiang’s visit to North American nation

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 September, 2016, 11:39am
UPDATED : Friday, 23 September, 2016, 11:49am

China and Canada say they will gauge the possibility of free trade talks and deepen commercial links in another sign the two countries are trying to rejuvenate ties.

Premier Li Keqiang and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced plans to study the benefits of a trade pact on Thursday after a meeting in Ottawa.

The leaders also detailed a list of other agreements that included a longer-term solution to a canola dispute and the resumption of Chinese imports of Canadian beef.

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The announcements follow on the heels of a trip to China by Trudeau billed by his Liberal government as an attempt to reboot relations between the two countries, including putting China at the centre of Canada’s trade diplomacy.

The exploratory talks are part of a bid to double two-way trade by 2025, Trudeau said. Canada and China exchanged about US$46 billion worth of goods in 2015.

“We are very pleased about the nature and the stability that we have been able to bring to the China-Canada relationship,” said Trudeau, who has criticised his predecessor Stephen Harper’s relations with China as “hot and cold”. The two countries “have already demonstrated progress on a range of issues”, Trudeau said.

Canada and China had a mixed relationship over the past decade under the previous Conservative administration. Relations cooled in 2006 after Harper criticised China’s human-rights record, telling reporters that promoting trade shouldn’t require the government “to sell out important Canadian values”.

Harper, who chose to skip attending the 2008 Beijing Olympics, also tightened investment restrictions on Chinese businesses and accused China of cyberattacks.

The relationship has been steadily improving since 2009 and under Harper the two sides concluded a foreign investment-protection agreement and opened China to Canadian uranium exports.

During Trudeau’s trip to China, the two countries agreed to hold a national security dialogue to improve cooperation on issues like counterterrorism, cybercrime and consular issues. Canada and China also began discussions on an extradition treaty.

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The biggest dividend for Trudeau may have come in the form of a solution on canola imports, which was announced at the press conference. China last month put off plans to impose tougher restrictions on Canadian canola pending a new longer-term agreement.

“We’ve found a predictable, science-based and stable solution to ensure access to the Chinese market by Canadian canola exporters through early 2020,” Trudeau said. “This is great news for our Canadian canola farmers.”

Canada is the world’s top grower of canola, used to make cooking oil and animal feed, and has become increasingly reliant on sales to China. The Asian nation had warned it could impose tighter certification standards for imports, threatening Canadian exports valued last year at US$1.5 billion.