November 16, 2015 / 11:19 AM / 2 years ago

Canada's new PM seeks to reset rocky China ties, boost economy

BELEK, Turkey, Nov 16 (Reuters) - Canada’s new Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met China’s top leader on Monday, seeking to revive political ties and boost trade to help energize a faltering economy.

Canadian executives and even the foreign ministry say relations with China spluttered from early 2006 to October 2015, when Stephen Harper’s Conservatives were in power.

“We have an opportunity to set a fresh approach in our relationship,” Trudeau told Chinese President Xi Jinping as they met on the sidelines of a Group of 20 summit in Turkey.

“I certainly hope that this is going to be an era of greater cooperation and mutual benefit,” he said, inviting Xi to visit.

A Canadian official said the two agreed to explore the possibility of a free trade treaty, but gave no further details.

Trudeau says increasing trade with major economies such as China and India will create more jobs.

In 2014, Canadian exports to China totaled C$19.4 billion ($14.6 billion) while imports were worth C$58.6 billion. By comparison, Canadian exports to the United States last year hit C$376.2 billion and imports were C$278.4 billion.

Harper initially kept his distance from China, citing Beijing’s human rights record. Under pressure from business he visited Beijing in early 2012 and promised to help meet China’s oil needs, but later that year he sharply limited what assets Chinese state-owned entities could buy in Canada.

“We would just like to have a China policy, not multiple China policies,” John Manley, head of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, told Reuters by telephone.

A Canadian foreign ministry briefing paper leaked to the Vancouver Sun last month said Canada “cannot continue to approach China in an episodic and transactional way”.

Under Trudeau’s father Pierre, also a Liberal prime minister, Canada became one of the first Western countries to recognize China in 1970.

“That was an extraordinary political vision,” Xi told Trudeau. “China will always remember that.”

Canada’s Conservatives, now the largest opposition party, demanded Trudeau “continue Canada’s clear communication of human rights concerns in China”.

The Canadian official said Trudeau told Xi that “part of having a strong relationship involves expressing concerns and disagreements in a respectful way”.

$1=$1.33 Canadian Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Ruth Pitchford

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