Canada looks to China trade deal while knowing 'there are issues there,' McCallum says

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

'There's a question of whether the public can be persuaded,' ambassador says of free trade

John McCallum, Canada’s ambassador to China, says there are arguments for and against a free trade agreement with China. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

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

"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," John McCallum told CBC Radio's The House.

"There's a question of whether the public can be persuaded that this is a good idea. So there are certainly pros and cons."

But the former 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.

China's preference would be to do a simple free trade agreement- John McCallum, Canadian ambassador to China

It will be up to cabinet to decide whether or not to start negotiating a free trade deal with China, and McCallum said "we're talking more than weeks" on a decision.

Officials from both countries 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.

Canada's Ambassador to China, John McCallum, talks about the future of the trading relationship between the two countries.

"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."

2 countries, 2 priorities 

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

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

Prime Minister Trudeau hosted Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in Montreal last September. (Ryan Remiorz/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 ambassador 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," Mulroney 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," McCallum said.

"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."

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