• Building ties with China, India a top priority for Canada
  • New trade minister heading to APEC summit with Trudeau

Canada’s new government is considering whether to join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank as ties with China and India are a top priority, Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland said.

Speaking by phone from Toronto, she said joining the bank is something Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals “are looking at closely, with interest,” declining to say whether a decision has been made.

“Our relationship with the two biggest Asian countries, China and India, is at the very top of the mandate I’ve been given,” she said Friday. “Those are really big relationships, and we are going to be consequential about building them. We’re not going to shoot from the hip.”

Freeland declined to say if Canada would change foreign-investment rules, particularly those for state-owned enterprises, which were tightened by the previous government. “A big part of my job is to work hard at attracting investment to Canada,” she said.

The trade minister is due to join Trudeau at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit next week. She spoke to Bloomberg about a range of issues Canada faces, many of them with the U.S., which last week rejected TransCanada Corp.’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

“We regret the decision. We supported and support Keystone,” Freeland said.

U.S. Relations

The Liberal government was criticized by pipeline proponents for not pushing back strongly against the announcement. Freeland dismissed that, saying the previous Conservative government was to blame for the the rejection.

“Kicking and screaming was not an effective foreign policy for Canada,” she said. “We really understand we need to build a positive, multi-front relationship with the United States, based on shared interests and shared values -- a relationship that is robust enough that we can, in an adult way, resolve inevitable trade disputes.”

Canada and the U.S. are at odds on several files, including softwood lumber, country-of-origin labeling rules and supercalendered paper. On all of them, Freeland said she would “energetically” defend Canadian interests.

Softwood in particular is “going to be a big issue in our relationship with the United States,” Freeland said. She declined to comment on whether a deal could be in place by the time a grace period on the existing agreement expires next year.

Freeland, 47, was appointed Minister of International Trade on Nov. 4. She was first elected in 2013 and served as co-chair of Trudeau’s economic council of advisers. In a mandate letter published Friday, the prime minister instructed her to develop a new Canadian trade and export strategy.

Trudeau also told Freeland to implement the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement and “consult on Canada’s potential participation” in the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership, which the previous government agreed to during the election campaign.

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