One of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau‘s objectives during a formal visit to China this week will be to take the next steps toward a free-trade agreement with the emerging world power, confirmed Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains this weekend.
In an interview with The West Block‘s Vassy Kapelos, Bains was pressed repeatedly for a clear answer on whether Canada and China would announce the launch of formal trade talks. Preliminary discussions have been underway with Beijing for months, with ambassador John McCallum promising that formal talks would likely begin this fall.
“(A launch of formal trade talks) is the objective,” Bains confirmed. “We want to move forward in a meaningful way … when we get there, we’ll have these conversations.”
WATCH: PM Trudeau questioned about Canadians detained in China
Bains’ comments seemed to somewhat contradict those made by government representatives during a technical briefing in Ottawa on Friday, however. Officials were firm that Canada is still assessing its position, and that Trudeau has no plans to launch free trade talks this week.
Trudeau and Bains left for China on Saturday and will be staying until Friday. The visit will likely see the prime minister continue his attempts to balance Canada’s clear desire for access to the burgeoning Chinese market with concerns surrounding the country’s abysmal record on human rights.
“As you know, we’ve been very focused on growth and jobs and diversifying our markets and looking at areas where we can genuinely help Canadian companies succeed and grow and China presents a lot of opportunities,” Bains said of the trip.
The minister was asked, however, if those opportunities may also present personal risks for Canadians who want to grow their business in the world’s fastest-growing economy.
A prime example is the case of a Canadian winery owner who is currently being held by Chinese authorities over an alleged customs valuation dispute. Richmond B.C. businessman John Chang remains in a Shanghai jail following a closed-door trial last spring. His wife, Lan-Fed (Alison) Lu, had her passport seized by Chinese authorities.
WATCH: Daughter of Canadian winery owners detained in China speaks out
“We want to make sure there are proper regulations in place, we want to make sure there’s proper protection for intellectual property, we want to make sure that we have conditions for businesses to be able to go there and succeed without these impediments, like non-tariff barriers for example,” Bains said. “These are issues that Canadian businesses have raised for us.”
But can the Canadian government really protect business owners like Chang?
“What’s the other option? If we don’t engage then it’s a huge missed opportunity,” Bains said. “There’s a lot goodwill. It’s about building relationships.”
Also looming over the entire trip this week will be the spectre of NAFTA, the free-trade agreement between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico that is seemingly at risk of collapse.
Bains said the Americans are well aware of Canada’s desire to diversify its trading interests around the world, and he’s not worried that new connections forged with China will anger Washington.
“We don’t take our policy cues from other jurisdictions,” the minister noted.
“We’re going to pursue our national interest, we’re going to do what’s best for Canadian businesses and Canadian workers.”
— Watch the full interview with Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains above
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