January 22, 2017 11:00 am

Canada’s trade minister sending signal to China: ‘We’re open to trade’

Trade Minister François-Philippe Champagne tells Vassy Kapelos his government is letting Asia know Canada is open to trade and his government will have public consultations on a possible trade agreement with China.

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While Canada moves to protect its economy from U.S. President Donald Trump’s protectionist agenda, Trump and his commerce secretary have been throwing punches at China, accusing its government of being protective and isolationist.

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The relationship creates a potentially difficult trade triangle for Canada to navigate as the government seeks to open its borders to more trade.

But initiating talks with China is the right thing to do, says International Trade Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne.

READ MORE: President Trump could pose ‘unprecedented’ challenges to Canada’s economy

“In a world where people are talking about uncertainty and protectionism, Canada [represents] 0.5 per cent of the world population and we represent 2.2 per cent of global trade, he said in an interview on The West Block.

“So we have to be looking at markets, not only for today but prepare markets for years to come.”

And China is part of that plan. Ottawa has already signalled its intention to explore enhanced trade with China.

“I think sitting down with China is the right thing to do. We’re going to look at whether that’s in the Canadian interest, and if it is we’ll continue,” Champagne said.

READ MORE: Trudeau congratulates Trump, praises ‘robust’ trade relationship

Canada’s newly-minted international trade minister was in Davos, Switzerland on Inauguration Day, meeting with his counterparts from around the globe – including from the U.S. and China – where, he said, the buzzword was “uncertainty.”

Trump’s protectionist agenda, one that could include a tariff on all goods crossing into the States – including those from Canada – has raised flags for Canadian economists and politicians concerned about the hit Canada’s economy might take as a consequence.

A client note from the National Bank of Canada indicated a proposed 10 per cent border adjustment tax will cause Canada’s total exports south of the border to drop by nine per cent.

READ MORE: President Donald Trump’s inaugural address stresses  protection

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet, though, are maintaining a confident front. Trudeau and his ministers have faced repeated questioning about any steps Canada is taking to prepare for potentially damaging policies.

The answers are boilerplate, repeated in the recent interview with Champagne.

“We share the largest unguarded border in the world, we have $2.4 billion in trade of goods and services every day, we have 35 states in the United States which have Canada as their major export market, we have nine million jobs in the U.S. which depend on trade with Canada,” he said.

“What I’ve been doing with [U.S.] officials here [in Davos] is to remind them of the integrated economy and the prosperity.”

Though Members of Trudeau’s inner circle had been meeting with Trump’s team leading up to the inauguration, Champagne has is sights set on China.

“This is one of the countries I want to visit because this is an important relationship,” he said. “We’re going to do it as quickly as possible. We want to send a signal in Asia … that Canada is open to trade.”

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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