Canada caught in the middle of an international trade war

A global trade war between two of the world’s biggest economies shows no signs of slowing down and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has admitted Canada is caught in the middle.

On May 13, Beijing announced it would impose new tariffs on US$60 billion worth of American goods, including a host of agricultural goods, effective June 1.

The retaliation comes after the United States on May 10 increased tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods — just hours before trade talks between the two countries collapsed.

Closer to home, Canada’s own woes with China show no signs of resolution.

The list of agricultural products running into so-called “administrative” issues with Beijing now includes canola, pork, and livestock genetics.

Meanwhile, two Canadians — former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessperson Michael Spavor — remain in Chinese detention, where multiple media outlets have reported the lights are being kept on 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Both men have also had limited consular access since their detentions in December.

Another two Canadians remain on death row in China, following convictions of drug trafficking.

So far, Canadian attempts to de-escalate the tensions appear to have been unsuccessful.

Meanwhile, Reuters recently reported Canadian attempts to urge American officials to assist on the China file are being largely ignored — this despite the fact Chinese actions against Canada are widely believed to be in retaliation for Canada arresting Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou under a U.S. extradition request.

Trudeau spoke with U.S. President Donald Trump twice last week about China.

Few details about those calls have been released.

But on May 10, the prime minister admitted China’s frustrations with Canada are not isolated to a bilateral spat.

“We know that Canadian canola is the best in the world, is unimpeachable in terms of its quality and China is simply using phytosanitary concerns as an excuse to prolong what is fundamentally a conflict, not even with Canada, but between the two largest economies in the world,” Trudeau told reporters in Edmonton.

The canola dispute, he said, is having a “terrible impact on farmers across the country” and said Canada is using every meeting available to try and resolve the issue.

Those meetings, the Canadian Press reported, include a recent gathering at the World Trade Organization where Stephen de Boer, the Canadian ambassador to the international trade body, urged China to provide evidence of its findings.

As of last week, Canadian politicians had not raised the issue with their political Chinese counterparts.

Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau told the House agriculture committee in early May that Canada was not prepared to take the canola issue to the World Trade Organization at that time.

She also stressed Canadian officials wanted to keep the discussions with China science-based, and said she had not discussed the issue with her Chinese counterpart other than to request travel permission for the delegation of scientists.

Bibeau was in Japan this weekend for a gathering of G20 agriculture ministers where she raised canola directly with China on the sidelines.

She also tweeted a photo of her meeting with U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.

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