Trudeau Begins Chinese Trade Push With Xi Meeting at G-20

  • China is top foreign-policy priority for new government
  • `Fresh approach' was needed in Canada's Chinese relations

After Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made trade with China a top foreign policy priority, it was his father’s legacy that helped break the ice.

Trudeau held his first meeting with President Xi Jinping at the Group of 20 summit on Monday, with the Chinese leader pointing out Pierre Trudeau’s role in instigating ties 45 years ago. “That was an extraordinary political vision,” Xi told the younger Trudeau in translated remarks. “China will always remember that.”

Justin Trudeau

Photographer: Ali Ihsan Ozturk/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The new government in Ottawa made trade with China and India a pillar of its overseas agenda since taking office Nov. 4 and Trudeau’s spokesman said after the meeting with Xi that a trade pact with China is now being explored.

However, the countries were at odds on the chief point of dispute at the G-20: climate pledges, and Trudeau sidestepped questions on what the impasse will mean for his hopes of increased trade. “I look forward to continuing to engage with Chinese leaders,” he said Monday evening as the summit concluded.

New Opportunity

China is Canada’s second-largest trading partner, behind only the U.S., with two-way merchandise shipments totaling C$78 billion ($58.6 billion) in 2014. About 1.5 million Canadians are of Chinese descent, or 4.5 percent of the population, government figures show.

In his remarks, Trudeau -- whose Liberals took power after nine years of rule by former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives -- said ties with China need to be improved.

“I’m well aware we have an opportunity to set a fresh approach in our relationship right now,” Trudeau said. “I know that there are many opportunities for us to work together on economic, political and cultural ties.”

At the same time, the countries were at opposite ends of the diplomatic talks over what climate-change pledges would be made at the G-20, ahead of the upcoming Paris climate summit. China and fellow top developing nations want to share less of the burden of cutting emissions, while Trudeau has urged tougher standards.

Climate Pledges

Trudeau, 43, aligned himself with countries calling for a “substantive communique” from the G-20 on climate change, said a Canadian government official, speaking Sunday on condition of anonymity to discuss private diplomacy. In his meetings in Turkey, Trudeau delivered an “impassioned” speech emphasizing the link between economic growth and fighting climate change, the official said.

The final communique, however, included phrasing favored by China and other developing economies, calling for “differentiated” responsibilities where developing economies bear less of the burden. Environmental groups quickly criticized the G-20 for not going far enough on climate in its communique, a rebuke for those like Trudeau who had pushed for ambitious climate pledges.

Trudeau, speaking to reporters, said the communique nonetheless had “strong language ” on the environment and pledged to continue talks with China.

“We have committed to have a more regular dialog on a broad range of issues, the economy and trade being at the center of it obviously, but a broad range of other issues as well, including action on climate change and emissions reduction,” Trudeau said.

Investment Rules

He declined to say if he’d consider changes to foreign investment rules to encourage more investment from China. “There are many, many discussions that we’re going to be able to build on, but I’m not going to speculate on what those can be,” Trudeau said when asked about investment rules.

The Xi event was one of five bilateral meetings for Trudeau at the G-20, his first summit as prime minister. He also met with Germany’s Angela Merkel, Italy’s Matteo Renzi, Mexico’s Enrique Pena Nieto and Indonesia’s Joko Widodo. It’s China and India, though, that are Trudeau’s top targets for new trade.

“Our relationship with China, our relationship with India, are really big issues for our country,” Canada Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland said in a Nov. 13 interview. “We understand that the job is both about promoting our trade with those countries and also promoting investment flows between them.”

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