And as a result of recent conversations with U.S. Congressional representatives this week, Liberal MP Mark Eyking says some of them have agreed to raise the matter during high-stakes trade talks between China and the U.S., launching Thursday and continuing through Friday.
Eyking, who led a delegation of members of the international trade committee, spoke with Global News about his visit and the issues he and fellow committee members have been raising with their American counterparts, including representatives in Congress from Trump-supporting districts such as those in Illinois.
“At the end of the day, they kind of have the sense that we’re getting swooped up with the whole thing, how Trump is dealing with their trade with the world,” Eyking said in an interview with Global News’ Jackson Proskow.
“Of course, another conversation we have with them — and they’re not aware of it at all, most of them down here — is the whole Huawei thing that we’re facing.”
WATCH BELOW: Canadian businesses brace for China’s next move
Eyking, who is also the MP for the Cape Breton Island riding of Sydney-Victoria, said while the visit is primarily focused on the stalls facing ratification of the new NAFTA agreement, talks also discussed the fact that the China trade talks seem to be overshadowing ratification and are having a big impact on Canada.
“So here again, little brother Canada, we’re taking a hit for them big time, right, and that’s not only in our economy with canola, pork and various things, but we have Canadian citizens that are detained illegally and under a bad circumstance,” he said.
“They’re totally not aware of this, what we’re doing for them, technically, and the price we’re paying. They are very keyed in on that and they want the information and they know the Chinese are coming to town now and some of them are willing to bring it up.”
Canada detained Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in December 2018 at the request of U.S. officials, who are seeking her extradition related to 23 charges laid against both her and Huawei in January 2019.
Those charges relate to an alleged conspiracy over the course of a decade to skirt U.S. sanctions on Iran and steal trade secrets.
But after the detention of Meng, Chinese officials seized two Canadian citizens and have been holding them in what Prime Minister Justin Trudeau describes as “arbitrary” and “illegal” detention ever since.
Michael Kovrig, a Canadian foreign service employee, was on temporary leave working for a non-profit when he was detained.
Michael Spavor ran a tourism firm taking visitors into North Korea.
Both have been held for months with limited access to consular services and a third Canadian convicted of drug smuggling, Robert Schellenberg, has been sentenced to death following the arrest of Meng. He is currently appealing his sentence.
WATCH BELOW: China backtracked on nearly all aspects of trade deal with U.S., report says
U.S. President Donald Trump has vowed to impose steep new tariffs on trade with China unless Beijing “stops cheating our workers.”
Two days of talks are taking place that will make or break the possibility of cooling tensions.
Chinese Vice Premier Liu He will be leading the delegation, along with one of the country’s top trade negotiators.
And while the focus on China raises the opportunity for Canada to rally allies in the U.S., it also prolongs the uncertainty around the future of ratification for the new NAFTA agreement when the attention of American leaders is so firmly fixed elsewhere.
“Right now, their big focus on China, China, China,” Eyking said. “So they’re just like, ‘Canada’s safe with us, we can pick that up anytime. Let’s focus on we-gotta-show-China-who’s-boss-here kind of thing.”
He continued, adding that one of the main goals for the committee, aside from raising the impact of the Huawei dispute and pressing for the removal of Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs, “is to let them know the clock is ticking on our side.”
Some Democrats have raised concerns about the agreement and whether it should have imposed tougher labour standards on Mexico.
But Eyking said from what he’s hearing, the substance of the agreement itself is not as much of an issue as the fight to get it through Congress.
“The agreement is not an issue,” he said.
“It’s getting it through the House and it comes down to Mr. Trump and Madame Pelosi. So if they can just stop for a minute — we’re talking with all the representatives down here and they see the urgency and say they’re going to go to the speaker and say, ‘This is something we’ve maybe got to be doing fairly quick here.’ So I’m hopeful that could happen.”
— With files from Global News’ Jackson Proskow