Why China matters to Canada

By NA LI in TORONTO | | Updated: 2017-07-06 23:35

Why China matters to Canada

Jean Charest, the former premier of Quebec, who is now a member of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada and partner at the McCarthy Tétrault law firm, spoke on the Canada-China trade relationship at the Canada China Finance Forum hosted by the Canadian Chinese Finance Association on June 29 in Toronto. NA LI / CHINA DAILY

Canada's destiny is to be a world trade hub for goods, services, investment and for the mobility of people and labour. But the missing piece to Canada's trade puzzle is Asia, and in particular, China, according to a former premier of Quebec.

Jean Charest, the former premier, discussed the Canada-China trade relationship at a Canada China Finance Forum on June 29 in Toronto.

"When I was the premier of Quebec, one of the international policies was to open up and be more aggressive in terms of going out into the world, and China was the number one country on our list," said Charest, now a member of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada and a partner at McCarthy Tétrault, an international law firm.

The changing European and North American landscape means that more than ever, the renewed relationship with China presents new opportunities for Canada, he said.

Charest was surprised last month that Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland was silent on China during her major foreign policy speech in the House of Commons, leaving Canada's evolving relationship with the rising economy "undefined".

It's time for a new direction, Charest said.

"It's not an option for us to think that what happens in China is of no consequence to us, because it will affect us," he said. "Given the size of its economy and its role as an engine for economic growth, China matters to all of us."

With 60 percent of its GDP trade related, Canada is one of the most trade-dependent countries in the world.

China is the world's second largest economy and is making a major transformation toward consumer led-economic growth.

For Canada, a country rich in natural resources, with strong energy, mining, forestry and agricultural industries, the Chinese transition has had a measurable impact.

And as the Chinese economy transitions, Canada can offer China opportunities to work together, notably in the area of financial services, education, health, green technology, transportation, culture and entertainment.

"It is obvious that our respective economies are complementary to each other," Charest said.

Moreover, Canada shares with China the same ambition of opening new trade routes, he said.

As an example, he offered President Xi Jinping's vision of building the Belt and Road Initiative, "which stands out as one of the world's most forward-looking trade initiatives".

"The creation of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, of which Canada will now become a member, lends support to the broader vision of developing the infrastructure that will support trade and economic development in all of Asia and beyond," Charest said.

Canada has a historic relationship with China that goes back to the Diefenbaker government, which passed legislation to open up the Chinese market for Canadian farmers, despite the absence of diplomatic relations, in 1961, to the current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's father, Pierre, who was the first Canadian prime minister to visit the People's Republic of China in 1973, up to now, as the younger Trudeau looks to "restart the relationship" with China.

"So the relationship in the mind of Canadians is very significant," Charest said. "I think it's going to be very important for us to reset Canadian public opinion on why China matters, why it's significant in our lives, why we want to structure this relationship to the benefits of both countries and how we can both benefit from each other.

"It would be in our interest to put it in the longer-term, historic relationship, to understand that the history of China, that its own evolution, is different from ours," he said.


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