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Li Keqiang hails ‘golden era’ for China and Canada during Justin Trudeau visit

Leaders vow to push ahead with talks on a free-trade agreement and sign pacts to cooperate on climate change, energy and education

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 December, 2017, 10:14pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 December, 2017, 2:49pm

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said China and Canada were entering a “golden era” of relations after he met Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Beijing on Monday, as the two leaders vowed to continue talks on a possible free-trade agreement.

They also released a joint statement on climate change and clean energy that Trudeau said would be the foundation for closer cooperation between the two countries, including a plan for regular meetings on the issues.

The two leaders also witnessed the signing of an action plan on energy cooperation, an agreement on the import and export of food products between the two countries – giving Canadian exporters of beef and pork greater access to the Chinese market – and a pact on education exchanges.

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Trudeau’s second visit to China since he took office in 2015 is expected to bring Beijing and Ottawa closer amid uncertainties over Canada’s renegotiations of the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) with the United States, which observers say may push Canada to diversify its trade with China.

Li said the frequent exchanges between the two countries’ top leaders were “rare” compared to China’s exchanges with other countries. Trudeau arrived on Sunday and will spend five days in China, just a year after his first trip to the country as prime minister.

“It shows that China-Canada relations have indeed entered a golden era,” Li said during a meeting with Trudeau on Monday, using the words previously used to describe China’s ties with the United Kingdom.

“And of course it also shows that the prime minister has attached high importance to Canada’s relations with China,” he said.

Li also said that China was “open” to continuing preliminary discussions towards a free-trade agreement with Canada.

“We will continue to explore the feasibility of a China-Canada free-trade agreement. China’s attitude is open,” Li said.

Trudeau’s trip a chance for China and Canada to talk free trade

China is Canada’s second-biggest trading partner, with bilateral trade reaching US$66.4 billion in 2016. Last year, 4 per cent of Canada’s exports went to China, up from 0.9 per cent in 2000.

But the US is still Canada’s biggest trade partner by far, accounting for more than three-quarters of Canada’s exports.

The two countries have been working towards fostering closer ties since Trudeau’s visit to China in 2016. This trip comes after the US decided to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact and as efforts to renegotiate Nafta appear to have stalled. At the same time, China is promoting itself as a champion of globalisation and free trade.

At a joint press conference on Monday, Trudeau said the trade landscape for Canada had “shifted” towards China.

“Canada is and has always been a trading nation, but the landscape for trading has shifted and we need to adjust to it,” he said. “Already one of the top destinations for Canadian exports, China will soon be the largest market in the world.”

Trudeau said Canada would continue to work towards a free-trade agreement with China that would bring strong business growth and strengthen the middle classes of both countries.

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The Canadian leader also said the two sides would continue to pursue “science-based solutions” for the dispute over Canadian canola exports beyond 2020, without elaborating. The two countries have been at odds over the exports into China, with Beijing imposing stricter rules on canola oil shipments last year.

He also mentioned next year’s Canada-China Year of Tourism – an initiative to boost the relationship between the two countries – saying he expected more Chinese tourists to visit Canada.

Trudeau is expected to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday before he heads to the southern city of Guangzhou where he will attend the Fortune Global Forum and meet international business leaders.