Canada's push for closer China trade ties hits problems: sources

Wed Jul 20, 2016 2:35pm EDT
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By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's push for closer trade ties with China has slowed amid unease with the extent of economic access Beijing is asking for and its human rights record, several sources familiar with the matter said, impeding a top priority for Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Trudeau, whose election win last year was warmly welcomed by Chinese leaders, may also trim plans for a full week visit to China ahead of a G20 summit in September, deciding instead to take a shorter, more symbolic trip with less focus on trade than initially predicted.

Trudeau, 44, promised to concentrate on expanding trade with China and India when he took office in November, seeking to help spark a sluggish export sector. But the sources said Ottawa did not fully appreciate how challenging it would be to handle an increasingly assertive China.

"Nothing substantive is going to happen quickly," said one person close to the matter. "This is a process that will take a decade."

Trudeau is popular in Beijing, which favorably recalls his father Pierre Trudeau, who established diplomatic relations with China in 1970 while he was prime minister.

China has tried hard to woo Trudeau, who was the guest of honor at a special Chinese reception in Ottawa in January which featured rare photos of his father in the Chinese capital.

But despite the friendly overtures, Canadian officials are resisting China's push for a free trade deal similar to the one it signed with Australia.

Last month, Trudeau told the Vancouver Sun newspaper a free trade deal should not be rushed, citing concerns over human rights.   Continued...

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens to a question from a journalist during an event at a restaurant in Gatineau, Quebec, Canada, July 20, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Wattie