OTTAWA – Free trade may be a long way off, but next week’s visit of China’s premier is being viewed as a strong sign that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is succeeding in deepening Canada’s relations with the Asian giant.
Premier Li Keqiang is to visit Canada next week, less than a month after Trudeau completed his first formal trip to China. Trudeau spent a week in China in late August and early September, making both a bilateral visit and attending the G20 leaders’ summit.
It will also mark the first visit to Canada by a Chinese leader since 2010, when then President Hu Jintao came for a Canadian-hosted G20.
Wenran Jiang, a University of Alberta China expert, said that is an unprecedented gap in personal political contact for Beijing with a G7 country.
Trudeau deserves credit for reinvigorating relations after the on-again, off-again years under the previous Conservative government – a decade that started with Stephen Harper waiting three years to visit China, said Jiang, who is also the director of the Canada-China Energy and Environment Forum.
But that doesn’t mean the table is set for the pursuit of a free trade agreement between the two countries, something China has said is a priority, he added.
After Trudeau’s August meeting with Li in Beijing, the Chinese premier said the two countries would launch a feasibility study on an eventual free-trade deal. Canadian officials stressed that while the two countries were having technical discussions, actual free-trade talks were not happening.
“It’s a question that Canadians need to discuss themselves, whether it is good for us. We need to weigh that,” Jiang said.
Paul Evans, of the Institute of Asian Research at the University of British Columbia, said both sides may want “some kind of comprehensive economic partnership agreement” but there’s still a lot of groundwork to be done.
That includes learning lessons from the free-trade deals Australia and New Zealand have with China, as well as “extensive consultations on the Canadian side with key stakeholders as well as a still-skeptical Canadian public.”
While in Ottawa, Premier Li will meet Trudeau and other senior officials to pursue a stronger, more stable relationship between Canada and China, the Prime Minister’s Office said.
Topics of discussion include trade and investment, environmental co-operation, legal and judicial collaboration and cultural exchanges.
Li will also travel to Montreal for meetings with senior political leaders, leading business people and members of the Chinese-Canadian community.
“Together, we will build on the progress made during my visit to China, deepening understanding between our two countries and working on growing our economies and strengthening the middle class,” Trudeau said in a statement.
China is Canada’s second-largest single-country trading partner and two-way merchandise trade between the two countries reached nearly $85.8 billion in 2015, up 10.1 per cent over 2014.