Baird Says Canada Committed to Completing Trade Talks

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said his country is committed to concluding existing free trade talks with countries such as South Korea and Japan ahead of beginning negotiations with other partners.

“While some have suggested that Canada should consider launching all sorts of new trade talks, our government is committed to concluding the agreements already under negotiation,” Baird said in a speech to the Canadian Council of Chief Executives in Ottawa, according to a prepared text of his remarks.

Canada has lagged behind other countries in developing trade links with Asia, and hasn’t signed a free trade agreement with any country in the region. The country’s failure to deepen trade links with fast-growing emerging markets explains the country’s falling share of global exports, Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney has said.

Baird, in his speech yesterday, said deepening trade links with Asia has become a “top foreign policy priority.” He cited the country’s ongoing talks with India, Japan, South Korea and Singapore, and the possibility of pursuing an agreement with Thailand.

“While we have completed nine free trade agreements since 2006, we have yet to complete one with any country in Asia,” Baird said. “We have no room for complacency.”

Baird also cited the importance of deepening links with the Latin American countries that already have free trade agreements with Canada, such as Chile, Mexico, Peru and Colombia.

China Pact

While Chinese officials have said they may also be interested in pursuing a free trade agreement with Canada, Baird made no mention of any future trade pact with that Asian country in his speech.

China’s ambassador to Canada, Zhang Junsai, said in an interview with the Globe and Mail published Sept. 22 the two countries should begin exploratory work on a free trade agreement.

After meeting Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Beijing in February, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said Canada and China should hold discussions on a possible free trade agreement, the Xinhua News Agency reported at the time. He said China is “ready to expand imports of energy and resource products from Canada” and boost cooperation in areas including renewable energy and the peaceful use of nuclear power, according to Xinhua.

On Sept. 9, the two countries signed an agreement to protect foreign investors in their respective countries. The signing, which took place at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Vladivostok, Russia, came as Harper’s government reviews Cnooc Ltd.’s proposed $15.1 billion takeover of Nexen Inc., a Calgary-based oil and gas producer.

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