Visiting Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang signed three trade agreements on Monday as Ottawa tries to diversify commercial ties amid tough NAFTA negotiations with Washington.
At a ceremony in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, 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 two sides also agreed that Canadian beef and pork will have greater access to the Chinese market and will continue to work on new standards for Canadian exports of canola to China.
“Canada is and always has been a trading nation, but the landscape of trade is shifting and we need to adjust,” Trudeau told reporters after the signing ceremony.
“China will soon be the largest market in the world. It’s home to one billion potential customers for the high-quality goods and services that Canadians deliver every day.”
Li told Trudeau it was rare for China to have such a “close, intimate relationship” with another nation.
“China and Canada are entering … a golden age in our relationship. We have a lot to offer each other. We are ready for closer cooperation,” Li told reporters.
The Premier visited Ottawa in September last year, when the two sides agreed to double bilateral commerce by 2025.
During his December 3-7 official visit, Trudeau will meet government and business leaders as part of Canada’s push to diversify its trade, the bulk of which is currently with the United States.
Trudeau has 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 North American Free Trade Agreement appear to be headed towards 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. Li said the two countries would continue exploratory talks and feasibility studies on a free trade agreement.
China is currently Canada’s second-largest trading partner, far behind the United States, with annual bilateral trade worth more than Can$85 billion ($67 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”.