EXCLUSIVE: Harper government quietly signed customs agreement with China

WATCH: Global News has learned the Harper government quietly signed a deal with China last month, promising to share customs information. Critics fear we are opening our doors too wide. Jacques Bourbeau explains.

OTTAWA – Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government quietly signed a customs-sharing agreement with China without announcing it to the public, Global News has learned.

And the move has experts worried about the consequences to Canada’s security.

At the end of Harper’s trip to China in November, the government sent out a news release proudly detailing the progress made and agreements signed, including initiatives to strengthen commercial ties and increase exports.

Watch above: Harper focuses on trade on first day of China tour

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But Harper made no mention of the agreement to share customs information with China, whereas similar agreements involving Israel and the European Union were widely disseminated.

The deal has many experts scratching their heads.

“China has for years been doing a tremendous job of stealing some of our technology,” said Garry Clement, a former RCMP superintendent with 30 years in the force.

“We’ve got a tremendous amount of counterfeit goods that we all know comes out of China. So I guess where my concern would come in is: what is the amount of intelligence that we’re actually going to share with them? And what (are) the controls we’re going to put on it, and how does that impact our relationship?”

There are many examples of Chinese attempts to steal hi-tech goods, blueprints and computer data.

Last year, a China-born naval architect, Qing Quentin Huang, was arrested for trying to smuggle information about Canada’s arctic patrol ships back to the Chinese government.

And Su Bin, a Chinese businessman, is accused of stealing data on the F-35 fighter jet and trying to sell it to Chinese state-owned companies.

Experts such as Charles Burton, an associate professor of Canada-China relations at Brock University, are asking why Canada is ready to share customs information with a government that is trying to evade our border cops.

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“I’m hard-pressed to know why it is that Canada feels it would be in our interest to share information on senstitive matters of interdiction of illegal exports and other customs-related matters with the Chinese state, who would likely pass it on to exactly the people that we are hoping to prevent from doing this kind of illegal activity,” Burton said.

Canada’s border services agency says the customs deal – signed in China on Nov. 8 by Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird – is good for Canada.

Negotiations began in September 2012, spokeswoman Wendy Atkin said in an email.

“Sharing information with China, Canada’s second-largest single nation trading partner, will greatly improve Canada’s ability to ensure supply chain security and further facilitate trade,” Atkin said.

“This agreement will enable information-sharing so that cross-border customs offences can be more effectively prevented, investigated and prosecuted.”

A spokesman for Public Safety Minister Jean-Christophe De Le Rue said the United States, Japan and the EU have signed similar agreements with China.

He said the CBSA consulted with the RCMP and CSIS prior to signing the agreement.

For now, the only information available on the agreement is a small notice buried deep in a government website.

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“I’m deeply concerned that the government has basically concealed this deal,” NDP MP Paul Dewar, the foreign affairs critic, said.

How do we know, in terms of the information that’s being shared with the Chinese, that it’s not going to, you know, work against us?”

Experts say it’s important Canadians know the details.

“What’s going to happen to this intelligence that we’re sharing? Can we trust them?” Clement said.

“I think there has to be some controls on it.”

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