SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Prime Minister Stephen Harper urged G20 member states on Friday to avoid protectionism, taking aim specifically at China's restrictions on imports of Canadian canola.
"Now more than ever, as tentative signs of recovery are emerging, Canada and China will need to keep our voices strong and united at the G20 table," Harper said in a speech to a business forum in Shanghai.
"The messages we must impart during this critical period will be threefold: first, we must urge fellow members to follow through on committed stimulus. Second, we must develop exit strategies to avoid inflation and asset bubbles. And third, perhaps most importantly, we must insist that all leaders stand firm against protectionist pressures.
"We have seen movements toward protectionism, albeit modest, since this global recession began. But modest or otherwise, protectionism is the single greatest threat to long-term recovery for Canada, for China and for the entire world economy."
The prime minister met with China's top leaders in his first visit to the Asian giant after nearly four years in office, which he said marked a significant new era in bilateral relations.
China had bristled at Harper's previous criticism of its human rights record, but friction has eased over the past year as a parade of Canadian ministers has visited Beijing and China has made several big investments in the Canadian resource sector.
This week, China lifted an import ban on pork from Canada, the United States and Mexico, which had been in place since the outbreak of the new H1N1 strain of influenza this spring.
"We welcome China's decision to lift restrictions on Canadian pork, but ill-considered protectionist measures -- like restrictions on canola imports -- can only lead to increased pressures for retaliation and protectionism," Harper said.
China has restricted imports of Canadian canola, which it imports to use as cooking oil, citing concerns about the spread of blackleg disease, a fungus that can kill the plant but causes no risk to humans.
China is Canada's top export market for canola and the Canola Council of Canada estimates the dispute will cost the industry C$1.3 billion (US$1.2 billion).
Reporting by Ed Klamann, editing by Tom Miles