In this file photo a Chinese ship makes its way toward the Lions Gate Bridge into the Port of Vancouver,  one of North America's most important gateways to Asia.(CP Photo/Chuck Stoody)In this file photo a Chinese ship makes its way toward the Lions Gate Bridge into the Port of Vancouver,  one of North America's most important gateways to Asia.(CP Photo/Chuck Stoody)

NEWS ANALYSIS

As NAFTA negotiations with the United States show slow progress, a new survey shows that more Canadians want to increase trade relationships beyond the United States, with Europe and the U.K.—jurisdictions with similar democratic institutions as Canada—taking the top spots.

China takes the fourth spot as the trade partner of choice, a finding similar to periodic surveys in recent years showing a decline in Canadians’ interest in free trade with China.

The federal government is pushing ahead with free trade talks with China, however, with a decision on the potential deal with the Asian giant expected this fall, according to The National Post.

The Epoch Times contacted Global Affairs Canada for an update on the Canada-China free trade talks, but answers to questions were not provided by press time. The government’s public consultation phase on the proposed deal closed in June.

As U.S. President Donald Trump plays hardball in NAFTA negotiations, Canada’s pursuit of a free trade deal with China has been cited by some as an attempt to send a signal to its southern neighbour that Canada isn’t limited in choice when it comes to trading partners.

But the Liberal government started negotiations on a potential free trade deal with China immediately after coming to power in the fall of 2015. That was long before Trump, then a Republican presidential candidate, criticized NAFTA’s terms as being overly in Canada’s favour as president of the United States.

The Angus Reid poll published last week asked Canadians where their government should look to develop closer trade ties. Around 45 percent chose the EU, followed closely by the United States at around 40 percent. The third spot with 30 percent went to the U.K., which is in the midst of exiting the EU and will be on its own in any trade talks. China, with close to 25 percent, came in fourth.

Angus Reid notes that interest among Canadians for developing closer trade ties with China has been in decline since the research company first began its periodic polling on the subject in 2014.

Even among the Liberals’ own support base, i.e. those who voted Liberal in the 2015 federal election, support for a free trade deal is below two in five.

Rule of Law

The Liberals’ “human connection” initiatives and “people-to-people exchanges” between China and Canada over the last few years were cited as being intended to reverse the negative polling trends of Canadians’ views on China, but it seems they haven’t succeeded in making Canadians more receptive to closer trade ties.

Perhaps that’s because it is not the elected representatives of the Chinese people that oversee the affairs of their country, but a single non-elected entity that controls all branches of power, including the judiciary, in a one-party system.

The overt state control in China is something that worries Dean Allison, the Conservatives’ newly appointed international trade critic, should a Canada-China free trade agreement go ahead.

“We certainly don’t mind doing deals with the Chinese people. It’s when you have the state involved in such a large way that gives us some great concerns,” he said in an interview.

That’s the lesson Amy Chang hopes Canadians wanting to do business in China learn. Chang’s parents, John Chang and Allison Lu, Canadian citizens who own wineries in B.C. and Ontario, are currently being held by Chinese authorities in Shanghai over an alleged customs valuation dispute.

According to Chang, the Chinese authorities have criminalized a commercial dispute in her parents’ case.

“If this is an issue regarding undervaluation, then they can let me know and we can deal with this diplomatically. There’s no need to have Canadian citizens detained overseas and imprisoned,” Chang told The Canadian Press last spring when she visited Ottawa to plead with federal politicians for help in getting her parents released.

“[Beijing] really is a government that doesn’t play by the rules, it isn’t rule-based,” said Allison. “[In China] we have clear violations of the rule of law as it would exist here in Canada.”

That means that when it comes to a free trade deal with China, there is no guarantee of a level playing field, he said.

“If you and I are making decisions in Canada based on business and personal interest and how the market economy works, that’s one thing, but we are competing with a systematically organized and controlled state-run operation. I think that skews the level playing field,” Allison said.

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