The announcement of formal negotiations for a Canada-China free trade agreement was postponed.
Exploratory talks extended after the two nations disagreed on key sticking points, notably human rights.
Nevertheless, speaking separately in Beijing, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Chinese president Xi Jinping expressed hope that a deal could eventually be reached as the two countries look to deepen what has already proven to be a crucial relationship.
In 2016, China was both Canada’s second largest export market and its second largest source of imports with $15.8 billion and $27.3 billion worth of goods respectively.
Although these figures pale in comparison to the more than half a trillion dollars of trade between Canada and the U.S., the former is currently looking to diversify away from trade with its southern neighbor as troubled talks with the Donald Trump administration for a revamped North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) continue.
The Trudeau administration has pushed free trade as a key focus of Canada’s economic and foreign policy. However, Canada has also become known for its insistence on “progressive” trade pacts, asking partners for key concessions on issues such as labour, environmental, and human rights. The same issues have dominated preliminary discussions on a revived Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
Speaking to reporters in Beijing on the China-Canada FTA, Justin Trudeau said: “China is very aware that this is a precedent as they move forward with their first trade deal with a G-7 country and there’s a desire to make sure we get it right.”
Canada and China already have considerable economic and cultural ties in areas such as finance and education. Last year, global real estate consultancy firm Knight Frank reported that Canada was the fifth most popular destination in the world for Chinese students.
In a press conference Monday, Xi Jinping cited a “golden age” in the relationship, stating: “Both sides should view that, due to the different national circumstances, it is only natural that we don’t see eye-to-eye on some issues.”