OTTAWA • Canada and China have agreed to begin talks for a possible free trade accord with an aim of doubling bilateral commerce by 2025, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced.
"We've agreed to launch exploratory talks towards a potential free trade agreement between Canada and China," Mr Trudeau said on Thursday at a joint news conference with visiting Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. "And further to this, we've set an ambitious new goal to double bilateral trade between Canada and China by 2025."
China is Canada's second-largest trading partner after the United States, with trade last year exceeding Canadian $85 billion (S$88.4 billion).
"We know that there is a huge amount of untapped potential in our commercial relationship," Mr Trudeau noted.
Mr Li's four-day official visit to Ottawa, the first by a Chinese premier in 13 years, comes one month after Mr Trudeau made a trip to Beijing looking to "renew and deepen" Sino-Canadian relations. It launches the annual dialogue mechanism between the two prime ministers.
The Chinese leader praised the reboot of ties, saying: "We believe that China and Canada have extensive common interests and good relations."
"These back-to-back visits in less than a month show that China-Canada relations are moving to a new stage," Mr Li told reporters.
He said it is normal for China and Canada, two countries with different national conditions and in different development stages, to differ. He added that what is more important is to manage their differences, knowing that their common interests are more important.
Before the joint press conference, the two leaders attended a signing ceremony for 14 bilateral cooperation documents.
Mr Li also met Canadian Governor-General David Johnston at Rideau Hall, the governor-general's official residence, on Thursday. Mr Johnston spoke highly of the new progress made in bilateral cooperation during Mr Li's visit.
Mr Trudeau and Mr Li have agreed to meet annually to discuss security and the rule of law, and economic and financial matters. Their respective foreign ministers will also hold annual talks. "Stepping up communications will increase mutual understanding and allow for the proper handling of issues and differences that we have," Mr Li said.
On Thursday, the two leaders also announced a lifting of Chinese bans on imports of Canadian canola (by 2020) and beef, and a tourism agreement that seeks to double two-way visits by 2025.
A request by Beijing for an extradition treaty with Canada, which Mr Trudeau has agreed to consider, has ruffled opposition parties in Ottawa, however. On Wednesday, opposition parties assailed the plan in Parliament, raising concerns that expatriates sent back to China could face human rights abuses and the death penalty.
Mr Trudeau shot back at critics, and ruled out any extraditions to countries where those convicted would face the death penalty.
Seeking to reassure his hosts, Mr Li said that while the death penalty was needed in China, the law provides for "humanitarian treatment" of accused persons. "There shall be no torture of the people concerned," he vowed.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, XINHUA