Canada’s pivot to China hits a snag
By Aadil Brar
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a special trip to Beijing last week to initiate trade discussions with China, which is Canada's second-largest trading partner. His trip to China received unprecedented attention and aroused interest among experts because it was expected to open the first free trade negotiations between China and a leader from a G7 country, Canada.
The United States' departure from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the recent US-Canada falling out over NAFTA discussions have put trading giants such as China and Canada in a rather unique position to reinvigorate trade across the Asia-Pacific region. Besides trade and investment, Canadians of Chinese ancestry are a strong presence in Canada, which is evidenced by the fact that Mandarin and Cantonese are the most spoken languages in Canada after the official languages of English and French.
China has been Canada's second largest trading partner, after the United States, since 2009. In 2015, Canada's $45.5 billion trade deficit to China was largely due to electronics and machinery; Canada also marked a modest services surplus due to tourism from China. But when it comes to promoting trade across the Asia-Pacific barrier, the relationship has a complicated past. Canada has had a love-hate relationship with Chinese investment, dating back to former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper's era when Canadian foreign policy took a cautious stance toward investment by Chinese private and State-owned corporations.
Private investment conglomerates in China look to Canada as a favourable location for trade and acquisitions, but the regulatory approval requirements and the national security review process in Canada makes it fairly difficult for Chinese firms with opaque operations to acquire companies in Canada. Most notably, Chinese State-owned oil corporation CNOOC's efforts to acquire Calgary-based Nexen faced an uphill climb during the Harper years. The deal was intensely scrutinized by regulators in Ottawa, and witnessed intense public discussions by experts and in the media. Though the deal was eventually approved, it marked an important friction point in Canada-China relations.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is trying to change that, a fact made evident by the approval given for acquisition of Canadian satellite technology firm Norsat by Chinese Hytera Communications, despite opposition from the Canadian intelligence community.
The present Trudeau Government has expressed its interest in strengthening ties in the current political climate, and even gave China an unofficial role at the TPP negotiating table. Canada also recently joined the Beijing-based Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) in March of 2017, and will be investing $199 million over the next five years.
A difficult way forward
However, the historical unease over trade between Canada-China caught up with Trudeau in Beijing. His efforts to negotiate a deal were apparently not as smooth as he was expecting. A planned meeting with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on 4 December ended with both Trudeau and Li reading written statements that they would keep 'exploring' opportunities to negotiate a deal.
That wasn't all. Chinese guards tried to stop photographers and media personnel from the Canadian media, and a planned press conference after the meeting between Trudeau and Li was cancelled as the trade talks didn't materialize. Trudeau's meeting with Chinese internet giant, Weibo in Beijing was heavily censored, and was only made available for the Chinese public an hour later.
Trudeau went off-script on Tuesday at the Fortune Global Forum, a Davos-style international meeting with leaders of businesses in China. There, he made a case for openness in trade, saying "China and Canada share the belief that more openness and more collaboration is the right way forward. Closing our doors will only hurt our businesses, and our citizens."
The next day, Chinese State-run media lashed out at the Canadian media, especially criticizing The Globe and Mail articleon Monday, which called China an "absolute dictatorship." China's Global Times further made remarks about the desperation on the Canadian side to negotiate a deal by stating, "China is also not in a rush to develop its relations with Canada. Let it be. This is the most genuine attitude of Chinese society." Global Times also called out the Canadian media for its "superiority and narcissism," and a video commentary by its Editor made sarcastic remarks suggesting that Canada scans every Chinese imported shoe to "check if it is produced democratically."
On 7 December, Trudeau stepped forward to applaud the Canadian media for "an essential role" during this trip. He was responding to a question about the comments made by Global Times.
Canadian progressivism meets communist China
Experts are reporting that the difficulties in negotiating the trade deal emerged from Trudeau's agenda to seek progressive commitments from China on labour, the environment, and gender equality. On the domestic front, Trudeau continues to enjoy equivocal support from the Canadian audience for his progressive take on politics, and has been lauded globally for his commitments in an exceedingly inward looking political climate. Canadian businesses also remain sceptical about forging a trading alliance with China, given its rather poor history at resolving fraud complaints, heavy control by the State over the market, and its overall performance on the human rights front.
On a positive note, China and Canada consolidated their commitment to promote tourism between both nations by declaring 2018 as the Canada-China year of tourism.
David Mulroney, a former Canadian Ambassador to China and an expert on Asia-Pacific affairs, called the failure to initiate trade talks a "self-inflicted wound" on Canada's part. Mulroney blamed the Canadians for a lack of preparedness in negotiating a deal, and pleaded for keeping the issues of trade and human rights violations separate. This opinion was also voiced by Stewart Beck, President of Canada's Asia Pacific Foundation.
Trudeau's progressive vision is not only complicating trade relations with China. Earlier this year at the APEC Summit, a meeting between the remaining 11 TPP members led to significant progress, but Canada continued to make a case for stronger commitments toward gender, labour, and environment protections in the TPP's revised version.
In an email exchange with The Diplomat, Eleanore Catenaro, Press Secretary to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, addressed the delays in starting talks with China and the subsequent complications during the visit. "Canadians appreciate that moving forward on a trade agreement is no small feat, and that the process takes time," she wrote. "As the Prime Minister said this week, we had constructive and substantive discussions about how to move forward with a comprehensive trade agreement with China, and we are pleased with the progress we have made to strengthen our relationship and deepen our partnership."
"There was never any illusion that this would be quick or easy — Canadians expect our government to continue to work hard on getting this right, and that's exactly what we remain focused on," Catenaro added.
She also noted "progress on a number of issues over the course of the trip," including a joint statement on climate change, increased market access for Canadian beef and pork, and the continuation of "exploratory discussions towards a comprehensive trade agreement." As for the progressive emphasis of the trip, Catenaro said that, "Trudeau had a respectful discussion on continuing efforts to improve human rights and the rule of law in our respective countries."
Some experts called last week's visit a stepping stone toward a major deal in the future, but the trip highlighted that the Trudeau Government's efforts to pitch progressive politics will continue to face difficult challenges in China.
Though the media is already calling Trudeau's trip to China a failed attempt, it could lead to another round of negotiations — on Chinese terms. Trudeau has learned a harsh lesson that the Chinese Communist Party is in no mood to change its rules for Canada's sake.
About the author:
Aadil Brar is an international freelance journalist and a National Geographic Young Explorer. His articles have appeared in the DEVEX International, Diplomat Magazine, The Northeast Today, and the Asian Pacific Memo among other publications. Brar holds a Bachelor's Degree in Anthropology from the University of British Columbia, and is based in Toronto, Canada.
- Using a dog as live bait to capture Panmure leopard Environmentalists cry foul
- PRESIDENT TO TAKE OVER ECONOMY AFTER LG POLLS
- Only fraction of requested funds sent to NPC last year Lack of funds derails development plans – CM
- US Govt in shutdown
- PCoI report on Bonds issue AG holds back 103 pages
- Alarming Police statistics reveal 3 underage girls raped every day!
- LANKAN LAWS SUFFICIENT ARJUNA MAHENDRAN CAN BE ARRESTED – AG
- Once Parliament convenes on 23rd JO to grill Govt on Bonds scam When will legal action be taken?
- Sunday Leader Editor murder case Intelligence men seen loitering near Lasantha’s office CID
- Ensure a free and fair election AAGGSL Urges public to elect honest candidates
- Elimination of bribery and corruption National Action Plan discussed
- Lankan jailed in UAE after FB post
- US helping SL to counter human trafficking
- 73-election law violations and 168 election related complaints 21 candidates among 197 arrested
- Seat belts and air bags compulsory from July
- Torture and Enforced Disappearances EU-SL JC insists on zero tolerance Wants PTA repealed and CCP amended
- If Ranil removed from Premiership UNPers threaten to impeach Prez
- Prez hints at being afflicted by Mahinda syndrome
- Rupee weakens 40 cents amidst uncertainty
- Udayanga has Rs 94M in 8 bank accounts FCID
- Malaka surrenders to Court Arrest warrant recalled
- To iron out SLFP-UNP issues in Yahapalana Govt Forming of advisory council proposed SLFP and UNP Ministers to discuss this week
- Obtaining bribe to release dead body 2 fmr MoH janitors sentenced to 8 years
- CIABOC withdraws charges Aluthgamage released from Case
- Rejection of Maharagama UC nominations SC throws out SLPP petition CoA postpones 14 petitions to 24th
- NOCSL Members came out together against current regime Rohan Fernando announces candidacy for presidency
- North and South Korea to compete under one flag
- Financial irregularities of NOCSL exposed in Audit
- HNB Sponsors Millennium Trophy Golf Tournament Dr. Scarth and Niloo Jayathilake clinch top awards
- 12th ICC Under-19 Cricket World Cup Ireland beat Afghanistan
- Sharapova eliminated Halep survives
- Kandy SC stay unbeaten
- Premier League club cricket – Tier A Marians crush Ports Authority
- Premier League Cricket – Tier ‘B’ Naved scores his third ton
- Bruised Sri Lanka battle to stay alive
- Svitolina ends dream of teen
- Sainz stays on Dakar title course
- Federer says get on with it
- New Zealand beat Pakistan in clean sweep
- North Western Archery C’ship Wayamba Royal International School holds contest
- ‘Singer Cup’ U-13 Division 1 Cricket Three schools advance to semis
- National athletes petitioned to IOC over controversial athletes’ commission
- Homeboys Kandy tough to beat on own turf
- Army favoured to win
- India rout Zimbabwe
- PUCSL to sue CEB
- Emergency power costs SL Rs 40B
- Tourism earnings up 2.3% Jan-Nov
- India’s Marg ERP to expand in SL
- Hemas acquires 75.1% of Atlas for Rs 5.7 billion
- SLT launches SL’s first Tier III ‘National Data Centre’
- CIMA organizes Directors’ Tax Forum 2018
- Carpetright shares crash on profit warning
- Sri Lanka achieves record exports in 2017
- Investment and employment opportunities open up in Maldives
- CCC launches ‘Economic + Sector Review and Outlook Report 2018’
- Strengthening the labour force to face the Fourth Industrial Revolution
- 100PLUS isotonic brand now in Sri Lanka
- NDB Wealth marks 2018 with website re-launch
- ABANS donates school supplies to children of staff
- BMICH nominated for Platinum award
- ‘PIONEERING LANKA’S SOLAR POWER MY BENCHMARK’
- Vallibel Finance opens in Wennappuwa
- CMA Australia completes 20 years in Sri Lanka
- MullenLowe, Quantum to list 2018 consumer trends
- Concretes & Abstracts Pitipana Committee and Public Debt
- Achieving true lasting reconciliation
- Dying art of sending postcards
- The Pursuit of Peace Starting at SCOPP
- The Oddest President Ever!
- Gang rape shakes Tissamaharama
- Threat to fauna and flora in the Wilpattu National Park region Lid blown on Gangewadiya sand mining racket Dredging of sand on such big scale poses a grave threat to wildlife
- Who are the ‘Aava’ Group? Mohan’s story
- Local Government Elections on 10 February will be largest electoral exercise in history Many firsts in LG Polls this year
- Elbow pain Is it Tennis or Golfer’s Elbow?
- Participatory citizenship is important - Rosy
- I have a master plan - Salley
- All set for Free and Fair LG Polls – Mahinda Deshapriya
- If given power We’ll develop country in two years -Chandrasiri Mahagamage
- Upcoming LG Elections a referendum
- National Prosperity Turning the Tide
- Disposable coffee cups:British lawmakers call for “latte levy”
- If only we could crackdown on the root causes to effect sustainable solutions Herein lies a Nation’s progress
- Forecast your own destiny An astrological guide
- Kala Sarpa Yoga will test sustainability of government
- TIMING OF EVENTS –CHILD BIRTH
- Season for Marriage and Construction
- Cancer Causing Vastu Defects
- “Hail, Caesar!” Silliness as a virtue
- Notes on history: The thinkers and the doers
- Reflections on a nation of non-readers
- The Disaster Artist: The (un)making of a movie
- Our children and our cinema
- INTERPRETING ASIAN CINEMA: CHALLENGES AHEAD
- How Sanskrit journalism is slowly hogging headlines
- ice manufacturing in South Asia
- Kite Surfing Lanka Kalpitiya An experience of a lifetime
- Ella and mini Adam’s Peak
- A cave of history -Ravana Cave
- Indu & Sanwada We have so much in common
- The Writer’s Kitchenette Vietnamese Fusion Rice Wraps
- ‘Derana Champion’ Shines with OPPO
- A Possible Fallout as US freezes Funds for Palestinian refugees
- Jungle loving President Premadasa
- How Felix Dias became Bandaranaike
- IT IS MY CHOICE
- In your own skin be the barrel you want
- Dear Patriarchy,Dilshani Palugaswewa tells it like it is in this open letter