Saturday December 02, 2017

Deal or no deal? Justin Trudeau heads to China with free trade decision up in the air

Canadian International Trade Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne speaks with the media in Danang, Vietnam.

Canadian International Trade Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne speaks with the media in Danang, Vietnam. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Listen 11:08

The federal government is still debating whether to formally enter free trade negotiations with China on the eve of Justin Trudeau's official visit.

"This is the moment for us to consider all the options we have," International Trade Minister François-Philippe Champagne told The House.

A statement from the Prime Minister's Office confirming the trip outlined how Trudeau plans to promote a progressive trade agenda and tourism initiatives, but made no mention of free trade.

The Liberal government has been debating for months whether to turn exploratory talks with China into a full-fledged negotiation.

Trade between the two countries has already reached $90B a year, and the temptation to do even more business with the world's second largest economy is strong. But China comes with particular challenges. 

"Canadians are very well aware of the challenges. People talk often about intellectual property, about state-owned enterprises," Champagne said.

The Trudeau government has also been pushing so-called progressive measures as part of its trade negotiations, including pushing for stricter labour and environmental standards. 

That could prove complicated with China.

But Champagne says his government will not be rushed.

"We're engaging with China on our terms, on our timetable, and with eyes wide open," he said.