BEIJING (AFP) - Visiting Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang signed three trade agreements on Monday (Dec 4) as Ottawa tries to diversify commercial ties amid tough North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) negotiations with Washington.
At a ceremony in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, the two leaders signed an action plan on energy cooperation as well as two memoranda of understanding on food products and a "Canada learning initiative." The details of the agreements are unclear.
"The opportunities for deepening our economic and people-to-people ties are tremendous," Trudeau said in opening remarks.
"Canada is deeply interested in further engagement and trade across the Pacific and I know we're going to continue to have wonderful and fruitful discussions," he added.
Li told Trudeau it was rare for China to have such a "close, intimate relationship" with another nation. "China-Canada relations are indeed headed toward a golden stage," he said.
Li visited Ottawa in September last year, when the two sides agreed to double bilateral commerce by 2025.
During the Dec 3 to 7 official visit, Trudeau "will promote a progressive trade agenda and tourism initiatives", according to his office. He will meet government and business leaders as part of Canada's concerted push to diversify its trade, the bulk of which is currently with the United States.
Trudeau said he also plans full and frank discussions on "issues like good governance, human rights, and the rule of law".
The visit to China is Trudeau's second since he came to power two years ago, and comes as trilateral talks with the United States and Mexico to revamp the Nafta appear to be headed toward a deadlock.
Canada and Mexico staunchly oppose US proposals for a Nafta sunset clause, minimum US content in car parts and nixing of the pact's trade dispute mechanism.
The US has adopted a more protectionist tone under President Donald Trump and his "America First" policy.
Beijing, meanwhile, has openly courted increased trade with Canada, including calling for a free trade deal.
China is currently Canada's second-largest trading partner, far behind the United States, with annual bilateral trade worth more than C$85 billion (S$90.4 billion).
During the visit to Beijing and Guangzhou, Trudeau will also meet President Xi Jinping and Zhang Dejiang, chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress or legislature.
The Prime Minister is popular in China, where citizens have affectionately nicknamed him "Little Potato", as his surname sounds similar to the word "potato" in Mandarin.
His father, who established diplomatic ties with China in 1970, was named "senior potato".
Internet users on domestic social media platforms focused on Trudeau's appearance, with one commentator hailing him as "the most handsome foreign leader".