Canada 'scratching the surface' with China: Harper
Published Saturday, December 5, 2009 10:03PM EST
Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Saturday that Canada is "only scratching the surface" when it comes to potential business and trade deals with China. Harper made the comments as he wraps up a four-day visit to the growing Asian superpower.
In a midday meeting in Shanghai with Canadian business leaders who work in China, Harper spoke of the seemingly limitless opportunities in China and pledged the government's help.
"Canada has made a real significant impact here (but) at the same time we all sense we are only scratching the surface," Harper said.
While the Chinese government criticized the prime minister for waiting nearly four years to pay his first visit to the country, Harper left China Saturday having made significant inroads on trade and other issues.
Canada has achieved approved destination status from Beijing, which will allow Chinese travel agents to promote Canada as a tourist destination. The move could mean as much as a $100 million boost to the Canadian tourism industry.
The Chinese also agreed to lift a ban on Canadian pork, open a new consulate in Montreal and to purchase $180 million in Canadian canola next year.
Harper said Saturday the next crucial step is for the two countries to reach an agreement on foreign investment protection. In a joint communiqu� signed by both countries, China has agreed to increase talks on the issue.
"Very few countries have major comprehensive economic agreements with China and this would be one moving along those lines, so that's one we want to push forward," Harper said.
Harper made significant gains in China despite a sometimes chilly reception from Chinese leaders.
On Thursday, Harper was scolded by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao because it's been five years since a Canadian prime minister visited China.
Wen later told Chinese media that he blamed the Harper government for the damaged relations.
"We are reluctant to see Canada alienate us in recent years," Wen was quoted as saying by the official China Daily. "That has hampered our trade and personal exchanges.
"I hope the visit can solve the problem of mutual trust."
The Chinese have also been upset by criticism from the Canadian government over human rights, and have been displeased by what they view as a warm relationship with exiled Tibetan leader the Dalai Lama.
CTV's Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife said the prime minister will likely return to China to continue improving relations with the world's fast-growing economy.
"Many Chinese experts say that the prime minister deserves credit for changing his attitude toward China," Fife told CTV News Channel Saturday in a telephone interview from China. "And this is particularly important because the United States economy is in a lot of difficulty right now, there's rising U.S. protectionism, and China is a growing market. Canada should be looking toward Asia, and particularly China, as an economic counter-balance."
Harper is now in Hong Kong, where he is scheduled to meet with local business leaders. He will also attend a ceremony at Sai Wan War Cemetery, where 283 Canadian soldiers who died protecting the city during the Second World War are buried.
On Monday, Harper will visit the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas. He will also deliver a speech to the South Korean national assembly, and will be the first Canadian prime minister to do so.
With files from The Canadian Press