The report highlights what Burton describes as “the fundamental incompatibility between our two systems.” The stagnation of the negotiations does not help anyone in Canada or China. Ottawa really should focus on creating a free trade agreement with Beijing. Prime Minister Harper`s December 2009 trip to the People`s Republic could be used to explore the possibility of a valid bilateral trade agreement between the two countries. If the initial discussions were successful, it would be a watershed moment in the Conservative government`s trade policy. It would also send an undeniable signal to the international community that Canada remains firmly committed to multilateralism and diplomacy and is strongly opposed to any form of protectionism. Equally important is that a Sino-Canadian free trade agreement can probably support China`s economic development and improve the living, working and living conditions of many of the country`s poor citizens. To that end, the Conservative Party should not allow its principles to impinge on any initiative to promote free trade with the CPP. China is certainly a human rights rapist, but it is not irremediable and it is unlikely that the public punishments of the Hu Jintao government will bear fruit. If Canada is to improve the human rights conditions for Chinese workers and dissidents, Ottawa should engage constructively by committing to a mutually beneficial trade agreement with Beijing. A pragmatic attitude towards a principle will ultimately lead to better long-term outcomes for Canada and China.

The report, released Thursday by the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, examines China`s previous trade agreements to show how they are often designed in favor of the Asian production giant. In addition, the report highlights ideological differences that could be barriers to genuine free trade between Canada and China. It has been 50 years since the Pierre Trudeau government established normal diplomatic relations between Canada and the People`s Republic of China, paving the way for a trade relationship that is now worth billions of dollars a year. But efforts towards a free trade agreement between the two countries are newer – and more difficult. Here are some of the important inflection points. “China should want to trade with Canada because it is in China`s interest and we certainly benefit from the Chinese goods and services we receive,” Burton said. Turning away from the idea of free trade with China is “realistic,” said Gordon Houlden, director of the Chinese Institute at the University of Alberta. Such an idea has been “politically incurable for some time – and totally incurable without solving the two cases of Michael and Mrs Meng.” Canada`s quest for a free trade agreement with China had already suffered a series of setbacks: Beijing refused to accept Ottawa`s demands for gender, labor and environmental clauses in such an agreement. The exploratory interviews have not taken place for several years.

China remains Canada`s second largest trading partner. But the Canadian economy is also increasingly skeptical of China, whose reliability has been questioned by the repeated use of retaliation in political conflicts. “I think Canada`s very large trade imbalance with China is probably due to China`s failure to live up to its WTO commitment,” Burton said, “because there are so many sectors that are blocked, so many non-tariff barriers and so many difficulties for Canadian companies to maintain their proprietary intellectual property and manufacturing processes in China.” This article first appeared on Policy Options and is published here under Creative Commons license.