By Theo van de Kletersteeg

The Prime Minister’s February visit to China was clearly conducted and viewed in a different spirit from a number of events preceding his first visit to China in 2009. Back then, observers felt that the PM’s chiding of China over human rights issues was not helpful in creating the right environment to boost trade, as were the granting of honourary Canadian citizenship to Tibet’s Dalai Lama, and the PM’s inability to accept the Chinese government’s invitation to attend the 2008 Olympics closing ceremonies.

But, that was then, and this is now, and it appears that the PM’s recent visit to China was completely devoid of any clouds, no matter how faint. China’s loan of two panda bears for ten years can only be seen as a significant gesture of goodwill in the development of warmer China-Canada relationships, which can only be seen as positive for Canadian trade, and good for world peace.

Canada has been criticized for being late in the development of strong trade relations with Asia-Pacific countries, allowing other countries, notably Australia, to pull ahead in terms of trade development. Given Canada’s poor international trade record of the past few years, the increased emphasis that the PM and his team are placing on trade development is encouraging, and should result in a more diversified mix of exports to a wider range of trading partners. Canadian exports of financial and engineering services, as well as high value-added manufactured goods such as transportation systems will hopefully accelerate to provide a measure of balance vis-à-vis exports of traditional raw materials such as energy products, minerals and forestry products. Canada’s relationship with China is now viewed in such a positive light that some observers anticipate seeing serious discussion of a free-trade agreement between China and Canada, in addition to higher levels of mutual investments and further collaboration and commercial agreements.