BEIJING — Justin Trudeau meets China’s powerful leader, President Xi Jinping, later today on his second full day in China as talks continue to formally kickstart free trade talks between the two countries.
International Trade Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne was continuing the trade discussions Tuesday morning and skipped a roundtable that Trudeau led with about two dozen Canadian and Chinese business leaders. Trudeau began the day meeting with a group involved in an education project aimed at women in rural China headed by a British Columbia woman.
The main event of Trudeau’s day on Tuesday comes when he meets Xi behind closed doors in Beijing before flying south to the city of Guangzhou for the Fortune Global Forum, a major conference of international business leaders.
The meetings follow Trudeau’s talks Monday with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in Beijing on Monday, where they were not able to announce the start of formal free trade talks.
Trudeau said there wasn’t one particular issue that held up the talks, but he wants a progressive trade deal that includes addressing issues such as gender, the environment and labour.
The two countries signed agreements on energy and the environment, agriculture and education that were billed as incrementally moving relations forward as part of their new annual leaders’ dialogue.
The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association said the agreement reached Monday could generate $125 million in new beef exports in the next five years, while the exploratory free trade talks continue.
“We know that they’re working on it. Things haven’t stopped,” John Masswohl, the association’s international relations director, told reporters in Beijing.
China imposes a 12-per cent tariff on Canadian beef, while Australia faces a seven per cent tariff that is gradually being phased out through their free trade agreement with China, he said.
The agriculture sector’s enthusiasm for free trade with China contrasts with some other 600 businesses, academics and civil society groups.
Some expressed fears that a free trade pact with China could kill Canadian jobs and reduce their ability to compete against China’s lax labour standards, lower environmental requirements and state subsidies.
Masswohl said opening new markets for Canadian beef in China is crucial. “Right now our biggest risk is we ship 270,000 tonnes of beef to the United States, and possibly facing losing that NAFTA agreement with the United States, which I think is a possibility.”
Trudeau told a large boardroom of three-dozen business leaders on Tuesday morning that China and Canada are continuing their exploratory discussions on a comprehensive trade deal.
The government wants to establish a framework with China that would broaden the talks to include the environment, governance, labour and gender issues before deciding to formally begin trade negotiations.
“We know that creating a strong framework in which investments and businesses and the rules that surround the operations of Canadian companies in China, and Chinese companies in Canada will be laid out, and predictable, is something that everyone is looking for,” Trudeau told the business leaders off the top of their one-hour closed door meeting.
“I know how important predictability and smooth understanding of the context in which we are, is important for business decisions.”
The two-dozen participants included Bombardier, Shopify, Manulife, SNC Lavalin, Bank of Montreal and Scotiabank.
“The formal free trade talk is a critical point that this mission’s about. We’re optimistic that eventually we’ll get to where we need to, to move forward,” said Preston Swafford, the chief nuclear officer for SNC Lavalin, which is vying for a slice of the clean energy market in China.
“They’re still working. The term is: the cake is not baked yet.”
Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press