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Trudeau makes Canada-China Free Trade Agreement a key priority

Trudeau and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. Photo by Fred Chartrand.

The Trudeau government says talks toward a Canada-China Free Trade Agreement could begin as early as next month.

In late-December 2016, the CBC reported, “International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland says Canada is tentatively booked to begin talks with China in February as the two countries explore a free trade agreement.” Those talks will now likely be overseen by the new international trade minister, François-Philippe Champagne, whose business background includes working for two of the world’s largest transnational corporations.

Today’s cabinet shuffle also included the news that John McCallum, a former senior economist for the Royal Bank of Canada, will step down from cabinet to become Canada’s ambassador to China. That might also be an indication of the importance the Trudeau government is placing on trade relations with China.

This past August, McCallum travelled to Beijing for meetings with senior Chinese officials in order to triple the number of cities where Chinese residents can apply for Canadian visas in order to attract more students, tourists, and temporary foreign workers.

The Globe and Mail also now reports, “The Trudeau government has cancelled a cabinet order by the previous Harper government that would have forced a Chinese electronics company to abandon its takeover of a Montreal-based high-tech firm because of concerns the deal could harm national security. Instead, in a decision that suggests a different approach to Chinese investment, the Liberal government has said federal officials will undertake a ‘fresh review’ of this transaction.”

The Harper government had been concerned about Hong Kong-based O-Net Communications buying Montreal-based ITF Technologies perhaps because there are military applications for some of ITF’s products and 25 per cent of O-Net could be owned by a subsidiary of the Chinese state-owned China Electronics Corporation.

The Council of Canadians is opposed to a ‘free trade’ agreement with China. We have argued it would include the controversial investor-state dispute settlement provision, that China has said a precursor to the talks is the approval of a tar sands pipeline to tidewater, the possibility that China could see Canada as a source for bottled water, and that highly-water consumptive Chinese industries could see Canada as a place to establish industrial operations given the freshwater resources here.

Overall, we believe a Canada-China FTA would be detrimental to people and the environment in both Canada and China.