Column: Canadians are already into more trade with China

It’s the right time to engage more with China and the wider Asian landscape to advance Canada’s trading interests.

At the G20 summit last weekend, the Canadian delegation made some headway re-setting relations with China and forging valuable economic ties. China is Canada’s second largest trading partner behind the U.S. The nation also happens to be the world’s second largest economy.

In a world where protectionism and trade barriers have become central issues – Brexit and the bitter U.S. election campaign – PM Trudeau and G20 leaders were out front defending free trade and warning of the dangers of isolationism.

Nailing down deals got underway before the Summit. Canada agreed to extend the canola trade agreement with China while they sorted out a solution to the trade dispute over China’s insistence on tougher inspection standards to reduce byproduct waste, or dockage rate, (stems, pods, weeds) in the 4 million tonnes of oilseed exported to China annually.

Fifty-six trade deals worth $1.2 billion were signed covering seafood, clean technology, health sciences and agriculture. Canadian business owners can now look forward to a digital “storefront” on China’s e-commerce Alibaba store, giving them access to over 400 million Chinese consumers.

Delegates floated the concept of a free trade deal with China and Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland spent time with European delegates on ratifying the CETA free trade agreement. CETA is considered the “best and most progressive” trade agreement the EU has ever negotiated, according to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. But, when reality checks in, the deal still has to evaluate the impact of the U.K.’s Brexit decision to leave the EU even though British PM Theresa May supports the CETA deal. Trouble is some European countries, Germany included, see free trade as a sweet deal for the multinationals and not a jobs stimulant.

Canadians are apparently on board with more trade with China. According to the 2016 National Opinion Poll commissioned by the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada and undertaken by EKOS Research Associates, data shows that Canadians believe more firmly that they are part of and engaged with the Asia-Pacific region. One-third (34 per cent) identify Canada as part of the region, up from just 22 per cent two years ago.

Canadians see Asia as more important to the country’s economy. In 2014, 46 per cent said Asia was valuable to their province’s prosperity. That number jumped to 60 per cent this year. Some 49 per cent see China’s economic rise as an opportunity for trade rather than a threat.

Almost half (46 per cent) supported a free trade agreement with China. That’s up from 36 per cent in 2014. It’s even higher for Japan (2016: 72 per cent; 2014: 56 per cent), India (2016: 55 per cent; 2014: 38 per cent) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (2016: 54 per cent; 2014; 37 per cent). In addition, 69 per cent of Canadians support universities engaging in educational and exchange ties to Asian schools while 59 per cent want to see more emphasis on teaching about Asia.

While in China, Prime Minister Trudeau rightly raised the issue of human rights while giving a speech in Shanghai, something Canadians strongly support being part of our foreign policy. The poll found that 76 per cent said the government should raise human rights issues rather than let them smolder unresolved in target countries. Only 35 per cent think human rights in China have improved over the past decade. As for Chinese investment in Canadian real estate, 62 per cent (72 per cent in B.C.) believing there’s too much.

The world order is shifting rapidly. Global growth is sluggish, new players are on deck and the rules are changing.  It’s the right time to engage more with China and the wider Asian landscape to advance Canada’s trading interests.