BEIJING — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau concluded talks with the Chinese premier in Beijing today but they were not able to announce the start of formal free trade talks.
Premier Li Keqiang lauded the “golden age” of relations with Canada and said China was amenable to continuing exploratory trade talks.
The two countries have spent months in exploratory talks that have taxed China’s patience with Canada seeking to add provisions regarding the environment, human rights, labour and gender issues.
Despite the fact the much anticipated next step in Canada-China trade relations failed to materialize, Li had kind words for Trudeau and Canada as he welcomed him to Beijing’s opulent Great Hall of the People. Li said it was rare for him to have yearly leader’s meetings.
“This is also a testament to the golden era of our bilateral relations. This also shows the importance you attach to the relationship between our two countries,” Li told Trudeau through a translator after their meeting.
Later, at a separate event, Li said Canada and China had entered a “golden age.”
Both leaders gave prepared remarks after their meeting, but the prime minister’s office said the Chinese cancelled a planned press conference.
Trudeau said they had “frank and direct” conversations and that he looked forward to deepening economic relations with China.
“The opportunities for deepening our economic and people-to-people ties are tremendous,” Trudeau told Li, who was seated across a large boardroom table in a cavernous and ornate meeting room. Both leaders were each flanked by eight officials.
“We had (a) candid and in-depth exchange of views just now and reached important common understanding,” said Li, without elaborating.
The Trudeau government says it is still deciding whether to formally begin trade negotiations with China and has been pushing for a framework to broaden the talks to include the environment, governance, labour and gender issues.
It recently released the results of consultations with more than 600 businesses, academics and civil society groups.
Some of those surveyed expressed fears a freed 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.
China says a free trade deal would be purely economic, and should not include talk of human rights.
Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press