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Trudeau government consultation on the Canada-China Free Trade Agreement ends June 2

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announcing exploratory talks on a Canada-China Free Trade Agreement, September 2016.

The Trudeau government is seeking your written comments on the proposed Canada-China Free Trade Agreement, six months after he announced exploratory talks would take place and three weeks after those talks began in Beijing.

The Canadian Press reports, “The Liberal government served notice in recent days that it wants to hear from a broad range of Canadians on the proposed free trade deal. International Trade Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said the government won’t make any decisions on a trade deal with China without consulting with Canadians first. Spokesman Joseph Pickerill said formal consultations will take place over 90 days and will include meetings across the country. In addition to business and civil society groups, the government is reaching out to labour unions, academics, indigenous groups, provincial and territorial governments and individual Canadians.”

The 90-day consultation ends on June 2. It’s not clear when, where or with whom the promised “meetings across the country” will take place.

While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is reportedly keen on securing a free trade agreement with China, the federal government is also likely aware that polling shows Canadians have concerns about such a deal.

A February 2016 Nanos Research poll found that 41 per cent would support or somewhat support a free trade agreement with China, while 47 per cent would oppose or somewhat oppose a deal. An August 2016 EKOS Research Associates poll found that 46 per cent would support a free trade agreement, while 46 per cent would oppose it.

Charles Burton, a former counsellor at the Canadian embassy in Beijing, has commented in The Globe and Mail, “Opinion polls indicate most Canadians do not want further political-economic integration with China, but elements of Canada’s business elite, with lucrative connections to Chinese business networks, are lobbying the Prime Minister’s Office hard to push on.”

We also have to be cautious about what it means to be “consulted”. While the majority of people consulted on the Trans-Pacific Partnership opposed the deal, the Trudeau government still has not withdrawn from the deal even though the Trump administration has done so and there can be no TPP without the United States. People across the country had a similar experience with the consultations on electoral reform. Despite a campaign promise that the October 2015 federal election would be the last under the first-past-the-post system, and strong public support for electoral reform, the Liberals broke their promise on this last month.

It is also curious given the Liberal government has not consulted the public and Indigenous peoples on the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Economic (CETA) nor on the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which could begin as soon as this coming June 15.

A Canada-China FTA would likely include an ‘investment protection’ provision that would strengthen a similar provision in the Canada-China Foreign Investment Protection and Promotion Agreement (FIPA).

The Hupacasath First Nation, a 300-member nation located on Vancouver Island, has stated that the Canadian government failed to consult First Nations before signing the Canada-China FIPA in 2012. They argued in Federal Court that FIPA, notably its investor-state provision, could be used to override Indigenous rights and give the balance of power in questions of resource management to corporations rather than affected communities.

This is particularly notable given The Globe and Mail has reported, “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.”

We will be providing talking points for this consultation shortly, but our current analysis on the proposed deal includes:

Indigenous rights at risk as Canada-China Free Trade Agreement talks begin February 20

Canada-China FTA talks to begin in February 2017 could have massive implications on water use

Trudeau pursues ‘free trade’ with China, with implications for pipelines, Indigenous rights & water protection

British Columbia rushes approval of Anbang Insurance purchase of retirement homes

The Council of Canadians opposes a Canada-China FTA and sees it as detrimental to people and the environment in both Canada and China.