OTTAWA – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canada and China have embarked on exploratory talks towards a potential free trade agreement between the two countries.
Trudeau also says the two countries have reached an agreement to effectively end a lingering dispute over Canadian canola exports, although he offered no specifics.
Word of possible free trade talks first surfaced earlier this month during the prime minister’s own visit to China, which agreed during that visit to hold off on enforcing tighter regulations on Canadian canola exports.
The prime minister, who said the two countries hope to double bilateral trade by 2025, made today’s announcements alongside Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, who is in the midst of the first visit to Canada by a Chinese leader since 2010.
Earlier Thursday, Canadian Forces cannons heralded Li’s arrival with a thunderous 19-gun salute while Falun Gong protesters massed on the parliamentary lawn.
Trudeau called the “historic nature” of their back-to-back visits to each other’s countries a chance to deepen and strengthen the collaboration and co-operation between the two countries on a broad range of issues.
“I look forward to continuing the discussions on challenging issues, but also on all the opportunities that we know there are to create benefits for citizens of both of our countries,” he said.
“I’m pleased to welcome you here to Canada and look forward to our working together.”
Li arrived in Canada late Wednesday and visited informally with Trudeau at the prime minister’s retreat at Harrington Lake.
A photo released by the Prime Minister’s Office showed the two leaders lounging in the back yard with glasses of beer while one of Trudeau’s kids hammed it up in the background on a trampoline.
Li was scheduled to meet later Thursday with Gov. Gen. David Johnston and sit down for dinner in Gatineau, Que., with Trudeau and wife Sophie Gregoire Trudeau.
The spectre of China’s “Operation Fox Hunt” – the pursuit and harassment of so-called economic fugitives and other dissidents – is casting a shadow over today’s talks.
WATCH: Premier of China arrives in Ottawa to meet with Justin Trudeau
Trudeau has acknowledged that the two countries are engaged in a high-level security dialogue, including the establishment of a controversial extradition treaty.
Trudeau defended the move Wednesday against opposition charges that China’s frequent use of the death penalty, among other things, make it a poor choice for such a treaty.
Trudeau says Canada would never approve the extradition of anyone facing the death penalty.
Instead, he says the new security dialogue would give Canada a venue to raise serious issues with Chinese leaders, as part of a “consistent relationship with one of the world’s largest economies, an economy that provides huge opportunities for Canadian businesses.”
© 2016 The Canadian Press