Prime Minister Justin 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.
Those talks, specifically the failure to advance past the exploratory stages, dominated both his meetings in Beijing with senior Chinese officials, and his appearance in Guangzhou at the Fortune Global Forum, attended by some of the most powerful business leaders in the world.
It also dominated Trudeau’s news conference with reporters before his return flight to Canada.
The prime minister acknowledged the difficulties dealing with a country that doesn’t share the same commitment to democratic ideals. But when asked during an armchair discussion at the conference if that’s generating pushback from Canadians, Trudeau said there are always challenges no matter who’s on the other side of the table.
China remains a big prize
“What Canadians expect as we engage with trade — and particularly a country as significant and as much of an economic powerhouse as China has become — is that they need to be assured that the values, the interests and the jobs Canadians hold dear are going to be compatible and fit within that trade deal.”
China’s economy dwarfs Canada and in 2017 is expected to grow at roughly double the pace.
With NAFTA talks stalemated over U.S. President Donald Trump’s demands for major concessions, and the growing possibility that the deal might be scrapped, Canada is looking to diversify its trade relationships.
The Trudeau government already has a free trade deal in place with the European Union, but China remains a big prize.
Trudeau acknowledged that concerns about China’s human rights record, and its use of state-owned enterprises to invest heavily around the world, present challenges.