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What is the current status of the Canada-China Free Trade Agreement talks?

The Council of Canadians were outside the Prime Minister’s Office in April 2017 to call on him to stop exploratory talks on a Canada-China Free Trade Agreement.

In September 2016, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang announced that there would be exploratory talks toward a Canada-China Free Trade Agreement. Three rounds of exploratory talks took place, but we’ve heard little since those concluded in July 2017 and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s trip to China in December 2017.

The Globe and Mail now reports, “The Trudeau government’s rejection of a Chinese takeover of Aecon Group Ltd. won’t derail free trade talks with China, but other factors – a shakeup in China’s ruling Communist Party and the trade dispute between Beijing and Washington – are weighing on the progress of the talks, federal officials say. …However, a senior official told The Globe and Mail that there has been no serious activity on the Canada-China free trade file since December when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau came home empty-handed from Beijing without a deal to launch formal trade talks.”

The article adds, “The last ministerial-level trade talks occurred in February when Song Tao, head of the Communist Party’s International Liaison Department, met Trade Minister François-Philippe Champagne and Daniel Jean, then-national security adviser to Mr. Trudeau, as well as other senior advisers in the Prime Minister’s Office. In his talks with Mr. Song, Canada’s Trade Minister focused on how to move ahead on free-trade negotiations. On Friday, a senior official said the ‘climate for discussion remains positive’, but noted that Canadian negotiator Bruce Christie and his Chinese counterpart, Wang Shouwen, have not held informal talks for months and none are scheduled for the immediate future.”

In short, Trudeau was not able to formally announce the launch of ‘free trade’ talks in December 2017 and a ministerial-level discussion in February 2018 also did not move talks on the deal forward.

In September 2017, the National Post had more optimistically reported, “According to a Canadian government official familiar with the matter, formal exploratory talks with China wrapped up in July [2017]. Officials are crunching numbers and are expected provide analysis to trade minister François-Philippe Champagne before the end of [September 2017]. Cabinet could be discussing a decision by October [2017], and Champagne could be on his way to China in December [2017] if there’s a green light, the official said.”

That timeline suggests that the cabinet had given a “green light” to Canada-China ‘free trade’ talks given Trudeau’s trip to China in December 2017. In fact, the CBC reported at that time, “Trudeau says he made substantial progress during his four-day trip to China even though he failed to secure an agreement to begin formal negotiations on a comprehensive trade deal with the world’s second-largest economy.”

Charles Burton, a former counsellor at the Canadian embassy in Beijing, has commented, “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.” Canada’s ambassador to China John McCallum has commented, “The crucial point will be whether we can persuade the average Canadian or the average Canadian worker whether [a free trade agreement with China is] good for him or her.”

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. That agreement was opposed by the Hupacasath First Nation that sees the deal as a violation of Indigenous rights.

As a net importer of Chinese investment, especially in energy and resources, investment protection provisions pose a real threat to the public interest. The existing investment pact with China notably allows Chinese energy companies to threaten the federal, provincial or territorial governments against imposing environmental rules on tar sands production, pipeline construction and other projects.

It should also be highlighted that on January 15, 2016, The Globe and Mail 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 and a commitment to build an energy pipeline to the coast.” Less than a year later, on November 29, 2016, the Trudeau government announced its approval of the 890,000 barrel per day Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain tar sands pipeline to the British Columbia coast.

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