Trudeau opens the door wider to exploratory free trade talks
Ongoing technical discussions, but no negotiations under way at this point.
BEIJING — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has brought Canada closer to China after agreeing with the Chinese premier to deepen the countries’ relationships – and explore a possible free trade deal.
After meeting with Trudeau, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang told reporters through a translator that Canada and China will launch a feasibility study on an eventual free-trade deal.
A senior Canadian official later said the two counties have ongoing technical discussions on free trade, but stressed that there are no negotiations under way at this point.
“This year marks 45 years of diplomatic relations between Canada and China,” Trudeau said as he stood beside Li in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, which overlooks Tiananmen Square.
“My father, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, played an important role in establishing a partnership between our two countries when he was prime minister. So, I’m very happy to be extending that effort now.”
The countries also agreed to hold annual meetings between the Chinese premier and the Canadian prime minister on a range of issues, including national security and the rule of law.
Trudeau also said the two sides will take steps to improve trade and investment, boost tourism, expand cultural exchanges and address climate change.
“With respect for cultural diversity, I think it is natural for us to understand that our two countries may have differences, on some issues this is only natural,” Li said.
“But I also believe that we have far greater common interests between us and on that basis there’s every reason for us to have candid dialogue about differences and work together for proper settlements of our differences.”
Asked if he had raised human rights concerns and the case of a jailed Canadian, Trudeau said the foundation of a good relationship is the ability to be frank and open about issues that can be worked on together.
He added that he’s “highlighted a number of consular cases” every time he’s had the opportunity to sit down with Chinese leaders.
Those cases include Kevin Garratt, a Canadian imprisoned for more than two years in China on espionage charges.
Trudeau himself has indicated in the past that there’s no evidence to support the accusations against Garratt. The prime minister did not say what China has told him about Garratt’s case.
Li insisted through a translator that China is a country of the rule of law. He said judicial authorities will handle cases in strict accordance with the law. He added that individuals will be treated in a “humanitarian way.”
In response, the Garratt family said in a statement through their lawyer that they were “extremely frustrated” by a lack of progress in securing his release and enabling him to obtain “critically-needed medical treatment.”
“Kevin should be released to allow the two countries to move forward to develop stronger ties and co-operation on many levels,” the statement said. China earlier announced an extension to its Thursday deadline to enforce rules on Canadian canola shipments so a long-term deal could be reached.
The change threatened to have a negative effect on Canada’s multibillion-dollar canola exports to China.
Trudeau met Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing.
Trudeau introduced Xi to Canadian ambassador Guy Saint-Jacques and three of his cabinet ministers: International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland, Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion.
“I truly appreciate the time you’re taking to meet with me,” said Trudeau, who was seated directly opposite Xi in a meeting room.
“I think it’s an indication that indeed the strong relationship between Canada and China continues to grow stronger. This meeting and this visit has been extremely effective in deepening already the close friendship between our countries.”
— With files from The Associated Press