(Bloomberg) -- China and Canada continue to haggle over terms to launch free trade negotiations, with Justin Trudeau’s lead minister on the file staying behind in Beijing for talks.
However, before Trudeau departed Beijing an aide to Trade Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne abruptly left the prime minister’s plane. Spokesman Joseph Pickerill said in an email talks were ongoing after a productive two days.
At issue, in part, are “progressive” chapters on subjects like labor, the environment and gender that Trudeau sees as essential to any potential deal. He said Monday he didn’t want to start negotiations if the countries -- which have held exploratory talks -- didn’t expect they’d be able to complete them. The to-and-fro comes after Canada angered Japan by balking at a deal to salvage the Trans Pacific Partnership as it pushes for further changes.
Trudeau told reporters earlier Tuesday he would continue to discuss a free-trade agreement with China “as the next step in the larger framework of our partnership,” adding that formal talks are “something that we are very much interested in, that we know China is very much interested in.”
The Chinese president received the Canadian prime minister Tuesday evening at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse, an elaborate building in a walled compound in western Beijing. Xi and Trudeau shook hands in front of a row of flags before adjourning to a meeting room, each flanked by five senior officials. One was Wang Yi, China’s foreign minister who caused a stir last year when he scolded Canadian journalists for asking about human rights on a visit to Ottawa.
Xi’s warm remarks didn’t include any mention of a trade deal. “I’m sure this visit will be a success and inject new vitality into China-Canada relations,” he said. “Both of our countries have their advantages and are highly complementary in the field of cooperation. Our cooperation will have even greater impact as we broaden this path.”
Trudeau, however, cited “important conversations” about trade and hailed bilateral ties between the nations. “I look forward to discussing with you the many areas in which Canada and China can continue to collaborate for regional and indeed global progress.”
Canadian business leaders traveling in China said it was still possible for the two countries to reach a deal to launch FTA negotiations. “Until they say no they’re not going to do it, then they’re still working toward making it happen,” said John Masswohl, director of government and international relations for the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, representing the beef sector.
Preston Swafford, chief nuclear officer at SNC Lavalin Group Inc. and chief executive officer of Candu Energy Inc., told reporters in Beijing Champagne was unable to meet with executives because he was in talks with his Chinese counterparts.
David Mulroney, a former Canadian ambassador to China, said Monday’s developments likely embarrassed Li and that launching formal talks -- while still possible -- was unlikely before Trudeau’s trip to China concludes Thursday.
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