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BEIJING (Reuters) - Canadian Trade Minister David Emerson held firm on Thursday to threats to consider action against China at the World Trade Organisation, despite talks with his Chinese counterpart he said were broad and friendly.
Emerson, who met Commerce Minister Chen Deming in Beijing this week, said China's failure to give Canada "approved destination status" (ADS) for tourists was discriminatory and could warrant action.
"I was here three years ago when we had agreement in principle to do the ADS deal," he told reporters. "We still have not gotten to the point where we're moving forward with a serious negotiation."
"And so, when I look out there and I see 138 countries, including the United States, who were given ADS, then I have to say, under trade law, this is looking more and more like discrimination."
The designation would allow Chinese travel agents to offer tourism packages to Canada and let Canadian agencies market Canada as a vacation destination.
"I don't want to go that way," Emerson said, referring to WTO action.
"I want a negotiated solution. But at some point, we have to look after Canada's interests. It will do economic harm to Canada. I can't stand by and watch that."
Analysts have suggested China's delay in approving a deal is a reprisal for Prime Minister Stephen Harper's criticism of its human rights record, and his meeting in October with the Dalai Lama, whom Beijing sees as a traitor and separatist.
The two countries have also sparred over the case of Lai Changxing, an alleged smuggling kingpin whose return from Canada China has long demanded.
Despite the frictions, China became Canada's fourth-largest export market in 2006 and its second-largest trading partner after the United States. Emerson said he had good talks with Chen.
"I like him very much," he said. "The friendship is immediate, it's warm, and we both have a commitment to get things done and to build the Canada-China relationship."
Reporting by Lindsay Beck; editing by Andrew Roche