BEIJING, China (Reuters) — Canada will continue to explore a free trade agreement with China, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said today, as it weighs its options after the United States threatened to pull out of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
The announcement appears to delay what was expected to be an announcement of the beginning of formal discussions toward working out an agreement.
Speaking after a meeting with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, Trudeau said if “done properly,” such an agreement would benefit both countries and strengthen the middle class.
“It’s an opportunity that makes sense for Canadian businesses,” he said at the start of a five-day trip to China. “Canada is and always has been a trading nation. But the landscape of trade is shifting and we need to adjust to it.”
Li said China remained open to exploring a free trade deal with Canada as part of joint efforts to safeguard world trade liberalization and advance globalization.
“We have an open attitude toward the process of negotiations, and an open attitude towards their contents,” Li said.
“On the agricultural front, I’m pleased to announce the Canadian beef and pork will have greater access to the Chinese market,” Trudeau said, without elaborating.
Canada is considering whether to launch talks on a free trade deal with China, which wants a trade pact similar to the ones it has with Australia and New Zealand.
But Trudeau, aware of domestic unease at the idea, is moving slowly. Although polls consistently show Canadians are split over the merits of a trade deal, Canada needs to diversify exports to offset the possible damage done if the United States pulls out of NAFTA.
Trudeau’s visit, which began yesterday, comes as plane maker Bombardier Inc. is eager to win a breakthrough order from Chinese carriers for its CSeries jet, whose fuselage is made in China.
But the chance of sealing such deals has become more cloudy after Canada encouraged Bombardier to sell a controlling stake in the CSeries program to Airbus rather than a Chinese firm.
China has been loosening restrictions on beef imports this year to feed the appetite of the country’s growing middle class for more western food.
Trudeau said he also agreed with Li in a joint statement that affirms a commitment to “mitigating the global threat of climate change” and lays out a plan for closer collaboration.
Earlier today, Trudeau promoted Chinese tourism to Canada at an event held at the headquarters of China’s Twitter-like online media company, Sina Weibo.
Canada has said it will co-host a January meeting with the United States of up to 16 foreign ministers in Vancouver to produce “better ideas” to ease tensions over North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic tests.
In late November, North Korea tested its most advanced intercontinental ballistic missile yet, putting the continental United States within range and increasing pressure on U.S. President Donald Trump to deal with the nuclear-armed nation.
Li said he discussed international and regional issues with Trudeau, but did not elaborate.