Canadians have mixed feelings about free trade with nation: Report

By Na Li in Toronto | China Daily | Updated: 2017-11-17 08:03

Canadians see both opportunities and challenges associated with a possible Canada-China Free Trade Agreement (FTA), according to the results of public consultations by the Canadian government.

Canadians recognize the significant opportunities for Canadian businesses and consumers offered by the Chinese market, and the importance of China for the future of the global economy, according to a summary of the consultations.

"Whether in supplying China's appetite for high-quality agricultural products and natural resources, making inroads into its massive government procurement market, or leveraging China as a source of, and destination for, foreign direct investment, many Canadians told us that they see real opportunities in deepening Canada's trade relationship with the world's second largest economy," said the report.

But Canadians also see significant challenges associated with doing business in China, said the report. While a range of difficulties identified by Canadians, like tariffs, permit issues, establishment requirements, and customs procedures could be mitigated or resolved by a possible FTA, Canadians also expressed concerns that are more difficult to resolve using a traditional approach to free trade agreements.

From March 4 to June 2, the 90-day public consultation conducted by Global Affairs Canada involved interaction with more than 600 stakeholders and partners across Canada, including businesses and industry associations, academics, labor unions, non-governmental organizations and indigenous groups.

Global Affairs Canada manages the country's diplomatic and consular relations, promotes the country's international trade and leads Canada's international development and humanitarian assistance.

Nearly 25 percent of companies and industry associations consulted were from the agriculture and agri-food sector, indicative of the high-level of interest among stakeholders in this sector in a potential FTA with China. Other sectors consulted included automotive, clean tech, consumer products, fish and seafood, forestry, industrial machinery, life sciences, creative industries, education, financial services, professional services and tourism.

"I was pleased to hear at my own consultations in Markham-Thornhill a great interest for an economic relationship with China," said Member of Parliament Mary Ng. "That would include a free trade agreement to help grow the middle class and create new Canadian jobs. I'm encouraged by the results of the government's consultations."

China is Canada's second-largest trading partner, behind the United States and ahead of Mexico. Canada is in talks with those two countries on changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement. However, earlier this month, Canada launched a challenge under NAFTA against recently announced US duties on Canadian softwood lumber imports.

"China will always regard Canada as an important trading partner," Chinese Ambassador to Canada Lu Shaye told Canadian media recently.

"In addition to the US market, there is still another big market, which is China. The volume of the Chinese market is now almost the same as that of the US. So why not switch to China? I think the earlier Canada makes determination to switch to China, the more benefits you will get," said Lu.

According to Lu, Canada and China have reached a lot of agreements after four rounds of exploratory discussions on FTA, and he hopes the two sides will reach agreements in the end.

"Of course, there are some differences. China advocates seeking common ground while reserving differences. In areas of disagreement, we can put away the issues for later discussion," he added.

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