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Trudeau and Chinese premier discuss a feasibility study for a Canada-China ‘free trade’ deal

The official welcome ceremony with Premier Li this morning at the Great Hall of the People. Twitter photo.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is in preliminary talks with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on a possible Canada-China ‘free trade’ agreement.

The Canadian Press reports, “After meeting with Trudeau, [the Chinese premier] told reporters through a translator that Canada and China will launch a feasibility study on an eventual free-trade deal. A senior Canadian official later said the two counties have ongoing technical discussions on free trade, but stressed that there are no negotiations under way at this point.”

Citing Trudeau’s failure to resolve the dispute over canola exports and to secure the release of a detained missionary, The Globe and Mail reports, “The two sides also came to no agreement on free trade – or even how to characterize their discussion. Mr. Li proclaimed an agreement on the ‘need to launch at an early date’ feasibility studies. Canada’s ambassador to China said no such agreement had been made. As a precondition to any such talks, Canada wants to ensure a deal addresses labour, the environment, the impact of state-owned enterprises and procurement, Guy Saint-Jacques said Wednesday.”

Back in June, The Globe and Mail had reported, “The Prime Minister has made re-engagement with China a key foreign policy initiative as his government presses for a free-trade deal with the world’s second-largest economy.” And in December 2015, China’s ambassador to Canada, Luo Zhaohui, stated, “At the policy level, we need to start the negotiation and conclusion of a free trade agreement sooner rather than later.” But the newspaper also highlighted the precondition for such talks: “China wants to forge a historic free-trade deal with Canada, but a senior Chinese official said this will require Canadian concessions on investment restrictions [notably in the oil and gas sector] and a commitment to build an energy pipeline to the coast.”

A free trade agreement with China would likely include an ‘investment protection’ provision that would make it that much harder to subsequently constrain the growth of the tar sands or to reject new pipelines. For example, Calgary-based TransCanada has launched a $15 billion North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) Chapter 11 challenge over the U.S. government’s rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline.

The Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA) was ratified in September 2014 by the Harper Conservatives with the support of the Trudeau Liberals. At that time, Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow stated, “This investment deal will give Canadian corporations operating in China a tool to fight any improvements in human rights, labour, or environmental standards in that country. Conversely, Chinese investors in the Alberta tar sands will use it to fight higher environmental standards in the Canadian energy sector.”

Barlow has also commented, “Instead of promoting corporate friendly trade and investment deals that profit only the privileged, Canadians should be standing shoulder to shoulder with the Chinese people seeking better working conditions, improved human rights, and a clean environment in both our countries.”

A recent Ekos Research Associates poll found that 46 per cent of Canadians would oppose a ‘free trade’ agreement with China, while 46 per cent would support one.

The prime minister arrived in China yesterday (August 30) and will also be attending the G20 summit in Hangzhou from September 5-6.