Of all the coverage I’ve seen about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s recent visit to China, and the return visit of Chinese premier Li Keqiang, the Globe and Mail stands out for being openly skeptical of our signing a comprehensive trade deal with the economic giant.
Thank goodness somebody is.
My question has long been: why are we tripping over ourselves to do business with these guys?
Set aside for a moment our concerns over China’s record on human rights, its arbitrary application of its own laws, or its disregard of the laws of other nations — it’s a tough world, and we trade with nations with corrupt regimes that have bad records on these issues all the time.
The bottom line is that China simply is not a reliable trade partner. Their history is rife with production of shoddy goods, of adulterated food products and their lack of standards of business accountability. They bring the maxim caveat emptor to a whole new level.
Just days ago, Canada announced a new trade deal with China on agricultural goods (canola and beef products) said to be worth $5.6 billion. The federal release noted our exports to China of canola for crushing is worth $2 billion a year, and beef is worth $255 million, set to grow by another $10 million a year.
Prior to premier Li’s visit, the Canadian canola industry was set in a tailspin when China announced an intention to restrict our canola imports, using a bogus claim of too high a content of foreign materials in the grain.
This from a country with no significant inspection or enforcement system for its own food exports. The list of suspect food products from China is as long as your Google search; reports of suspect or even toxic shipments of fresh vegetables, gluten, beef, chicken, pet foods, honey — even infant formula — have been in the news.
But eight per cent of plant stems and such in a shipload of canola seeds from Canada can result in an import ban? Clearly, the announcement was a ruse to obtain concessions in a trade deal. And, apparently, the ruse worked. Only we are left to ask: what did Canada give up to obtain the deal?
That brings up the matter of human rights. Just as premier Li was coming to Canada, China released a Canadian prisoner, held without charge, held without access to legal assistance, accused but never proven as a spy: Kevin Garrat, a missionary worker.
Canadian media have widely reported that China routinely — and illegally — spies on our businesses, and have even been linked to high-level internet hacks of our Finance, Treasury Board, Defence Research and Development Canada departments.
But a lonely Canadian missionary in a nowhere town in China is an espionage threat?
Wealthy Chinese nationals in Canada accused of corruption at home have seen their families arrested and their assets seized, while being given false promises of leniency by government agents (who entered Canada as tourists) to pressure them to return home to face trial.
China wants Canada to sign an extradition treaty to speed up the return of these people. Reports of negotiations toward such a treaty have split the governing Liberal caucus, and even the cabinet. Are we negotiating extradition of people who have essentially been tried in absentia by a country that executes more people every year than any other? Where rule of law is arbitrary and politically influenced?
How do we know? That’s the problem of relations with China.
Earlier this year, I was privileged to lead a public discussion on the documentary The Human Harvest, made by Vancouver filmmaker Leon Lee. The documentary featured the work of Canadian Nobel Peace Prize nominees David Matas and David Kilgour, who uncovered and made public China’s ongoing mass detention, torture and murder of Falun Gong practitioners, for the country’s trade in organ transplants.
The film was shown at Red Deer College, just before Trudeau’s first visit to China as prime minister.
In essence, the charge is that China’s health care system kills tens of thousands of political prisoners and sells their organs for transplant services to foreigners, as a fundraiser.
My question, asked then, still remains: Why are we falling over ourselves to do business with these guys?
Greg Neiman is a retired Advocate editor. Follow his blog at readersadvocate.blogspot.ca or email firstname.lastname@example.org.