Politics

Chinese ambassador pitches improved trade to Western Canada

In a webinar organized by the Canada West Foundation on Friday, Cong Peiwu, China’s ambassador to Canada, made a case for improving economic relations between the two countries, with a distinct focus on Western Canada.

Cong, who became ambassador in 2019, has been making similar remarks since September 2021, when Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor returned to Canada and Meng Wanzhou returned to China following a years-long diplomatic dispute.

He spoke mainly about agricultural and energy exports, and the potential for Western Canada to supply China with more goods and services as the latter embarks on its five-year economic plan.

The foundations of the bilateral relationship are strong, and the two countries are “natural partners,” he said.

China’s burgeoning middle class is increasing an appetite for Canadian agricultural exports and services such as education, finance, and elder care, he said.

The two countries also share a commitment to limit climate change and recover from the pandemic through multilateralism, he added.

“China and Canada should uphold mutual respect and equal treatment, (and) focus on co-operation and differences in a careful way” to ensure the relationship returns “to the right track and improves further,” he said.

While the problem of the Michaels and Meng is now resolved, there are still ripples in the relationship, including a longstanding Chinese ban on Canadian canola seeds.

Two major Canadian canola exporters, Richardson and Viterra, have been shut out of China since early 2019 because Chinese authorities decided the seed quality wasn’t high enough.

Cong cited statistics showing that other canola exports that aren’t subject to the ban, such as canola oil and meal, have increased in recent years, calling them “exciting figures.”

Ottawa tried to resolve the canola dispute at a mid-2021 meeting of the World Trade Organization, only to be blocked by China. Despite this, Cong said he’s optimistic something can be worked out in short order.

The Chinese government … is duty-bound to make sure that consumers’ safety is guaranteed,” he said. “Certain measures we adopt (for) canola-seed products are just to make sure … food safety (is) protected.”

Officials on both sides of the disagreement are trying to solve the “technical issues” as soon as possible, for the benefit of both Canadian exporters and Chinese consumers, he added.

Canadian exports of other agricultural products, such as wheat and barley, have also increased over the past few years, and “it is hoped that the trend will be continued,” Cong said.

China’s latest five-year plan — a set of policies to guide its economic development from 2021 to 2025 — is full of opportunities for Canadian businesses, he said.

“The plan proposes to expand the middle-income group, with an emphasis on graduates from universities and vocational colleges,” he said, praising Alberta’s post-secondary-education regime. 

Enlarging the middle class will also create more demand for Canadian “high-quality and innovative products and services, which will bring business opportunities (to) Canadian companies, including those in the Western region,” he said. 

The plan “also proposes to implement a new energy-security strategy, which requires diversified sources of oil and gas imports,” such as Western Canada’s fossil-fuel reserves, he said.

This story was copy-edited after publication.

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