When Justin Trudeau left Canada for China on Sunday it was with the bright hope that he could represent the first G7 nation to broker a free trade deal with China. Those hopes have since been dashed on the hard, sharp rocks of reality. It’s been two days and he hasn’t been able to announce any formal trade talks and it doesn’t look like he’ll be able to even get started on a deal before he heads home on Thursday.
When Trudeau met with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on Monday, he and his team were expecting to be able to make a statement that the Canadian and Chinese governments would be entering formal trade talks in the coming days. The Trudeau government was under the impression that the inconsistencies between the governments that were discussed in Trudeau’s visit last year were resolved and that both countries could move forward together. That did not seem to be the case.
At the time of the last trip, Canada’s then-ambassador to China said that trade discussions did not get far because Trudeau said he could not move forward without articles on environmental sustainability, gender rights, labour rights, state-owned enterprise and government procurement. These are the issues that Canada thought had been resolved. After the meeting, Premier Li said that since our two nations are so different, “it is only natural that we don’t see eye to eye on some issues.”
Excellent talks with Premier Li in Beijing today – any possible trade deal with China will need to reflect the values & priorities of Canadians. pic.twitter.com/7CgTgk0yEa
— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) December 4, 2017
The climate in the room before Trudeau’s meeting with Li might have been some indication for how the talk would go. Both the Canadian media pool photographer and Trudeau’s personal photographer Adam Scotti were blocked by Chinese security. Hmmm, that’s uncomfortable.
The Trudeau government isn’t giving up so easy though. Trudeau traveled south from Beijing to Guangzhou on Tuesday, but left his International Trade Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne behind in the capital to hopefully iron things out and get the two countries closer to agreement on key issues.
One Canadian who was hoping for a more favourable trip to China for the PM is 24-year-old Amy Chang. Her parents John Chang and Allison Lu own wineries in Ontario and B.C. which ship internationally. The couple was detained in China in March 2016 for allegedly under-reporting the amount of product they ship to Asia. Chang says that in the 20 months since then, her father’s health has rapidly deteriorated and she appealed to Justin Trudeau through CTV to free her parents. Minister Champagne responded to Canadian media while in China, saying that he takes Chang’s case “very personally” and that he has raised it with his Chinese counterpart.
“We have voiced very clearly to the Chinese leadership our dissatisfaction and our concern,” he told The Canadian Press, “This is a matter that should not have led to the type of action that was taken.”
Hopefully Champagne’s extended stay in Beijing means both that he can smooth over some of the key issues on which Canada and China disagree and secure the freedom of John Chang and Allison Lu.