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Midweek podcast: Making sense of the drama in China

06 December 2017

CBC noted that Trudeau is leaving his trade minister in Beijing an extra day at the last minute, suggesting Trudeau's insistence on "gender rights" being part of any trade negotiation has stalled talks.

"Canada stands strongly as a country that is making a case for global trade that benefits everyone".

"On the agricultural front, I'm pleased to announce the Canadian beef and pork will have greater access to the Chinese market", Trudeau said at the Monday briefing, without elaborating. Although polls consistently show Canadians are split over the merits of a trade deal, Canada needs to diversify exports to offset the possible damage done if the United States pulls out of NAFTA.

Trudeau met with both Premier Li Keqiang and President Xi Jinping in Beijing.

"And once we get to the stage of negotiating a trade agreement, that's going to take years, as well", he said.

Trudeau said he would not hesitate to raise human rights concerns with Xi, who has become China's most powerful leader in decades.

"The nature of the strong and constructive relationship means we can have frank discussions without endangering the positive relationship".

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He said he's raised specific consular cases, and the inability of Canadian diplomats to visit some Canadians in prison.

But it's impossible to say at this point what the timeline is when it comes to formally entering free trade talks.

GUANGZHOU-Signalling that Canada's hopes to launch free trade talks with China this week may yet bear fruit, International Trade Minister François-Philippe Champagne changed plans at the 11th hour to stay behind in Beijing as the prime minister left the capital to attend a business summit in southern Guangdong province.

While the Canadian government's plane was readying to take off from Beijing's airport, at least two of Champagne's aides sprung from their seats, grabbed their luggage and darted off the aircraft.

"We will continue to deal with multiple different ways of benefiting our two countries as we work together, whether or not there are formal negotiations or exploratory talks", he said.

Canada's ambassador to China, John McCallum, told reporters that, despite an apparent setback when an expected announcement failed to emerge on Monday, the formal beginning of trade talks during Trudeau's visit was still "conceivable".

"We know that they're working on it. Things haven't stopped", John Masswohl, the association's worldwide relations director, told reporters in Beijing.

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Environment Minister Catherine McKenna is also headed to China, but she'll be with Trudeau only in Beijing, where she'll be promoting clean energy co-operation with her Chinese counterparts.

John Masswohl, director of government and worldwide relations with the Canadian Cattlemen's Association, said the biggest risk of failing to start negotiations with China would be continued reliance on the US market at a time when the North American Trade Agreement is under threat by a protectionist administration in Washington.

Some expressed fears that a free trade pact with China could kill Canadian jobs and reduce their ability to compete against China's lax labour standards, lower environmental requirements and state subsidies.

Joined by several cabinet ministers, Trudeau is to arrive late Sunday, ahead of his Monday morning visit to the headquarters of Sino Corporation, which owns China's most popular social media platform, Weibo.

"I know how important predictability and smooth understanding of the context in which we are, is important for business decisions".

What the glowing praise for the talks in Chinese state media omit is that Trudeau and Li did not end up agreeing to preconditions for trade talks that Trudeau himself was supposed to start on this visit.

"The minister was active in trade negotiations all morning so we weren't able to meet with him", said Preston Swafford, the president of the CANDU division of SNC-Lavalin, which is looking to expand operations in China.

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"They're still working. The term is: the cake is not baked yet".

Midweek podcast: Making sense of the drama in China