Canada abandons free trade talks with China: minister

Published September 19, 2020, 1:23 PM

by Agence-France-Presse

OTTAWA (AFP) – Canada has walked away from free trade talks with China amid soured relations over a Huawei executive’s arrest and the detention of two Canadians in apparent retaliation, foreign minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said in a newspaper interview Friday.

Talks had stalled more than a year ago.

The decision to quit negotiations aimed at Canada becoming the first G7 nation to sign a free trade pact with the world’s second largest economy marks a major policy reversal for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government, which had pursued a deal since coming to power.

”I don’t see the conditions being present now for these discussions to continue at this time,” Champagne said in an interview with the Globe and Mail daily.

”The China of 2020 is not the China of 2016,” he said.

His comments represent a hardening tone toward China — more in line with the United States, Australia and parts of the EU — after exhaustive diplomatic efforts to soothe ties failed.

Trudeau visited China in September 2016 and weeks later Chinese Premier Li Keqiang travelled to Canada to renew their partnership in dozens of areas, including joint military exercises.

Since then, Beijing’s crackdown on its Uighur population and its erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy has upset many liberal democracies, including Canada, which cancelled its extradition treaty with Hong Kong.

Add to this, according to Champagne, Beijing’s ”arbitrary detention” of former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor on suspicions of espionage, in response to the December 2018 arrest of telecom giant Huawei’s chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou on a US warrant during a stopover in Vancouver.

Meng is wanted for alleged bank fraud and violations of US sanctions against Iran, and has been fighting extradition ever since.

”Our first priority is to get the Michaels back home,” Champagne said.

”All of the initiatives and policies that had been put in place at the time (in 2016 with China) — all that needs to be reviewed,” he said, adding that Ottawa is ”looking at all of them with the lens of China of 2020.”

Despite the tensions, China remains Canada’s second largest trading partner after the United States.

In the year to July 2020, Canadian exports to China increased 23.6 percent while imports rose 13.9 percent.