Saturday September 23, 2017

Looking to China 'with our eyes wide open'

Listen 11:26

Canada's ambassador to China says the Liberal government is still making its pros and cons list about launching formal talks around a free trade deal with the global superpower, including the potential public fallout.

"It's in our genes, if you will, to do free trade agreements, but there are concerns. There are some industries which would not be happy. There are some groups of Canadians who would not favour such an agreement. There's a question of whether the public can be persuaded that this is a good idea. So there are certainly pros and cons," said John McCallum.

But the immigration minister-turned-diplomat wouldn't say whether he believes the positives outweigh the negatives.

"Well, I'm not going to say that. I'm working for the government. I'm part of the discussions leading up to a decision. What I'm saying is there's a strong case for, but there are also arguments against," he said.

Officials from Canada and China have held several meetings since exploratory talks were formally launched earlier this year. McCallum said the two countries are getting along "extremely well" so far.

"It's all cylinders firing in terms of moving ahead on many fronts with China because it's really good for Canadian jobs," he said. "We want to pursue stronger ties with China but with our eyes wide open. We understand there are issues there."

While accepting an award in New York this week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke about the need for progressive trade deals, with chapters on labour mobility and gender equality.

McCallum said getting a compromise between the two countries will take some time.

"These are not the kinds of things China itself would put on the table," said McCallum. "China's preference would be to do a simple free trade agreement."

Foreign Committee 20170502

John McCallum, Canada’s Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China, appears as a witness at a House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development in Ottawa in Ottawa on Tuesday, May 2, 2017. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

A document obtained by CBC News this summer shows the government has been confronting long-standing concerns from business and other stakeholders, including issues related to intellectual property rights, transparency, the bulk sale of water and human rights.

At the time Canada's former ambassadors to China, David Mulroney, called the documents a "sales job" and was especially critical of how the government was addressing human rights concerns.

"It's not a strategy, it's just 'don't worry we raise it.' And that's not enough," he said.

Another ongoing issue with China is cybersecurity. In June, the two countries agreed not to engage in state-sponsored hacking of each other's trade secrets and business information.

"China is changing a bit. China is becoming a holder of very important intellectual property as well as an acquirer," said McCallum.

"China is at least as much concerned about other countries acquiring their intellectual property as taking it from others. I think there's an evolution here."