October 21, 2018 10:00 am

Ahead of Beijing trade trip, Jim Carr touts Chinese interest in Canadian resources and ‘brainpower’

WATCH: Minister of International Trade Diversification Jim Carr tells Mercedes Stephenson that his trip next month to China is not to negotiate a trade deal and the recent USMCA deal does not prevent Canada from signing a trade agreement with China.

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Ahead of trade meetings in Beijing next month, Trade Diversification Minister Jim Carr says China wants Canada’s resources — including ‘brainpower.’

But he made no mention of whether they can actually be trusted on how they plan to obtain that.

READ MORE: Trudeau says he’s looking at ‘thoughtful ways’ to expand trade with China

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In an interview with the West Block’s Mercedes Stephenson, Carr touted upcoming efforts to reform international trading rules via a conference being held in Canada next week and exactly what he hopes to gain from a series of high-level trade meetings taking place with Chinese counterparts in Beijing in November.

“The Chinese have an interest in accessing Canadian resources,” he said. “We have an interest in talking to the Chinese about our technologies, including our renewable resource technologies, including advanced manufacturing.”

“We have an awful lot of brainpower in this country that is of interest to the rest of the world, including China. That’s the nature of these discussions.”

WATCH BELOW: China bigger security threat than Russia: Wray

The question of how close is too close when it comes to China has become a significant bone of contention in recent Canadian politics.

China has disregarded international court rulings over its expansion into the South China Sea, crushes dissent and political opposition, and has been red-flagged repeatedly by Canadian and Western intelligence agencies for stealing intellectual property.

READ MORE: Chinese spies using fake LinkedIn accounts to connect with U.S. gov’t workers: spy chief

In 2016, CSIS issued an unusually frank warning that both Russia and China were out to steal Canadian secrets.

In 2017, Canada and China signed an agreement not to hack each other’s companies to try and get corporate secrets and proprietary technology.

WATCH BELOW: Canada still looking for trading opportunities with China, Trudeau says

But critics including former Canadian military intelligence officer David Swan have dismissed the agreement as a photo op.

“This would be a worthy agreement IF both countries meant what they said,” Swan wrote in December 2017 for the MacDonald Laurier Institute. “A review of China’s history of hacking in Canada, its infrastructure to undertake such activities, and the PRC’s lack of treaty compliance, suggests this is an agreement of little value.”

READ MORE: Should MPs accept free trips to China? Critics urge closer look at sponsored travel

A 2017 report from the Commission on the Theft of American Intellectual Property also found Chinese theft of American corporate secrets cost between $225 billion and $600 billion each year.

Carr said the trip will be a chance to stress the need for following international trading rules, something the government is also set to discuss with 12 like-minded countries starting Oct. 24 in Ottawa.

WATCH BELOW: Canada still looking for trading opportunities with China, Trudeau says

China will not be a part of those talks, which will include Australia, Brazil, Chile, the European Union, Japan, Kenya, South Korea, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore and Switzerland in addition to Canada.

The United States was also not invited.

READ MORE: Watch China’s efforts to influence as Canada pursues trade, former envoy says

Carr suggested the invited countries will be more “comfortable” talking about potential reforms to the World Trade Organization in a country that has shown it respects the need for the rules that form its core mandate.

“Where do you start?” he said. “You start by inviting people to place where they feel comfortable with a government that has shown its commitment to a rules-based order since the Second World War.”

He dismissed the prospect the United States could be irritated by the lack of an invite when trade reform has been a frequent target of President Donald Trump’s rhetoric and tweets over the past two years.

Instead, he said the Americans were “supportive.”

READ MORE: Study says Canada needs trade with China, but the USMCA will make that more challenging

But he would not predict how they would respond if Canada were to pursue free trade talks with China given the newly-reached USMCA gives the U.S., Mexico and Canada the right to withdraw with six-months notice if one of the Three Amigos enters into a free trade agreement with a “non-market economy.”

That means China.

“We have sovereignty to negotiate agreements, to talk about sectoral agreements with all of our partners. China is the second largest economy in the world, it’s growing and we’ll continue to have conversations with them,” Carr said.

“I have no idea how countries may respond to conversations we have with countries around the world. They’re free to express opinions but Canada’s a sovereign nation and it’s our right as a sovereign nation to enter into these discussions when we think it’s in the interests of our people and in this case, we certainly do.”

Carr and Finance Minister Bill Morneau will arrive in China on Nov. 11.

The trip will last two days.

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