Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer would sooner uphold the Liberal government’s environmental regulations than a free trade deal with China, he said in an interview, just as the Trudeau government prepares for its second round of talks with the country.
“There are so many concerns with the Chinese government – their human rights record, the way their economy works. We don’t want to see Canadian manufacturers, Canadian workers put on a completely uneven playing field,” he told The West Block’s Vassy Kapelos.
“Our labour standards, our working conditions. These are all things we are proud of in Canada.”
If Canada enters a free trade deal with China that doesn’t account for the differences in labour standards, Scheer said, Canada will end up putting a lot of Canadian companies and workers at a “huge” disadvantage.
Last month, Canada’s ambassador to China, John McCallum, said the two countries were gearing up for a second round of exploratory talks, building on discussions the ambassador said are so far going well.
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The two countries announced last fall that they were engaging in informal talks ahead of possible negotiations on free trade.
With the increasingly protectionist sentiment in the United States, the federal government has been looking to diversify Canada’s international trading interests.
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There is nothing inherently wrong in trading with China, Scheer said – Canada has done so for years and he expects the two will continue to for years.
“There’s a lot of work we can do when it comes to financial protection so investors in both countries have a level playing field,” he said in an interview aired Sunday.
But there are “tremendous” opportunities around the world where the Liberals can otherwise focus as they seek to secure trading partners to fill any gap that might be left with the U.S., even though China’s market is massive.
“The United Kingdom, as it decides how it’s going to leave the European Union would be a natural fit for a free trade deal,” Scheer said, suggesting a handful of countries could, together, bridge the gap.
“There are a lot of countries that are seeing growth, we’ve enhanced our economic ties with India, with Japan. There’s growing populations all over the world that are going to need Canadian products.”
The next steps on free trade will involve the second round of exploratory talks and the completion of consultations with Canadian industry, which began in March.
McCallum predicted it will be “into the fall” before any decision is made on whether to move forward with formal trade negotiations.