China’s ambassador to Canada, Lu Shaye, told the Globe and Mail that Beijing is seeking full access to Canada’s economy ahead of free trade talks, a move that could result in Chinese state-owned companies bringing their own employees to work on projects in Canada. Charles Burton, an associate political science professor at Brock University, said bringing their own workers abroad is “normal practice” for Chinese companies. “It’s not as if [the Chinese] would be asking something of Canada that they don’t expect from other countries,” he said.
Earlier this year, Canadian and Chinese officials held exploratory talks on a free trade deal and another meeting is set to take place this month, Lu told the Globe, just as the US prepares to renegotiate NAFTA with Canada and Mexico.
Lu said that his government wants to avoid discussions of human rights issues, fearing it could become a “bargaining chip” in negotiations. Additionally, anticipating what has become an increasingly regular response by sovereign governments to China's money-laundering disguised as M&A ambitions, the ambassador said China's government would interpreted any attempt by Ottawa to block takeovers of Canadian companies on national security grounds as protectionism.
“Investment is investment. We should not take too much political considerations into the investment,” he said. “Just like the negotiations of the (Canada-U.S.) FTA, we should not let political factors into this process. Otherwise, it would be very difficult.”
Meanwhile, Canada's ambassador to China, John McCallum, told the CBC that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau "is very clear that we want to pursue stronger ties with China. We think that in the medium term this will lead to more Canadian jobs."
While China has recently pushed to adopt the mantle of the "world's biggest defender of free trade" following Trump's threats to impose protectionist measures, and has been among the most vocal countries in response to Trump's proposed trade practices, critics say the country is itself a bastion of protectionism. They note China allows almost no foreign investment in banking and telecommunications. Many argue the country has not lived up to the commitments it made to open up its economy when it joined the World Trade Organization in 2001.
China’s interest in Canada lies primarily in energy, and in the possibility of exploiting Canada’s oilsands. The country will push for a reversal of Harper government-era policies that restricted the ability of Chinese state-owned businesses to invest in Canadian energy.
As Daniel Tencer writes, the vast majority of China’s largest corporations are state-run enterprises whose executives are often hand-picked by government. They also note that China’s notion of “full access” to an economy could be very broad. As the foreign policy blog OpenCanada notes, China’s 2015 free trade deal with Australia includes a provision that allows Chinese companies to bring their own employees into the country to work on projects, so long as those projects are worth more than AUD$150 million.
With the specter of being displaced from their jobs by imported Chinese workers, opinion polls suggest Canadians are split on the issue of free trade with China. One poll carried out for the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada last August found 46% support for a deal with China, and the same percentage opposed. However, that was a stronger showing than a poll six months earlier, which showed only 36-per-cent support for a China trade deal at that time.
Canadians were much more likely to support free trade deals with more developed economies, such as the European Union, Japan and Australia.