The announcement was the latest of Mr. Trudeau’s sometimes contentious efforts to develop stronger ties with China. It came during a news conference with Premier Li Keqiang of China, who is on a four-day visit. This month, Mr. Trudeau’s government said with little fanfare that it was negotiating an extradition treaty with China, a country with a dubious human rights record and sometimes questionable legal processes.
No details were offered about what form any trade deal might take, but Mr. Trudeau said that he hoped to double trade with China by 2025.
In Beijing in August, Mr. Li made a similar announcement. But Canadian officials later said that statement was premature, citing differences between the countries on labor standards, environmental protections and the role of Chinese state-owned firms.
“These issues which, last month, were an intractable barrier to free trade have somehow been resolved,” said Charles Burton, a former Canadian diplomat in China who is now a professor of political science at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario. “I’m uncertain of the net benefit to Canada from such an agreement.”
Canada’s imports from China are about three times the level of the country’s exports to China. Canadian banks and insurance companies have long been interested in operating in China. And while China is a major customer of Canadian farmers, they have often been frustrated by steps the Chinese government has taken to block imports of their products.
One current dispute that could have blocked exports of Canadian canola, used mainly for cooking oil, has largely been resolved, Mr. Trudeau said Thursday. Mr. Li also announced an end to Chinese restrictions on the import of some Canadian beef.
But many other groups in Canada, including auto parts makers, oppose any free trade deal with China.
Despite having a significant trade advantage with Canada, China has been the country promoting the idea of free trade. Mr. Burton said that one of the crucial goals of any deal would probably be the loosening of restrictions on Chinese ownership of Canadian natural resources. But opinion polls have for years shown that Canadians do not support that kind of Chinese investment, particularly when it comes from Chinese state-owned companies.
Mr. Trudeau’s efforts to develop economic ties with China put his government somewhat at odds with the United States. China was not included in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement involving 12 Pacific Rim countries, including the United States. While the previous Conservative government made Canada a party to that agreement, Mr. Trudeau’s government has waffled about its plans for it.
But Canada has a history of not always following the United States’ lead when it comes to China. Pierre Elliott Trudeau, a former prime minister who was Mr. Trudeau’s father, re-established diplomatic relations with China in 1970, two years before President Richard M. Nixon made his trip to Beijing.
The announcement that Canada has agreed to negotiate a bilateral extradition treaty with China appeared on a government website the day before Kevin Garratt, a Canadian missionary who had been jailed in China on espionage charges for more than two years, was returned to Canada. Mr. Trudeau denied that there was any connection between the two events.
China believes Canada is among the many nations that have become hide-outs for former officials charged with corruption, and it has stepped up diplomatic pressure for their return.
Mr. Burton said that most cases involving deportations to China involve violations of Canadian immigration laws.
Four years ago, a 12-year legal fight concluded with Canada extraditing a Chinese billionaire accused of corruption, Lai Changxing. But Canada obtained assurances that he would not be executed or tortured and that it could monitor his conditions while in detention. Mr. Lai was sentenced to life in prison in China.
Mr. Burton said that Canadian courts would be likely to turn down many, if not most, extradition requests because judges would not be convinced the accused would receive a just hearing in China. Canadian courts also cannot extradite people who are likely to face a death sentence.
The New York Times