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Trudeau joins APEC leaders in focus on free trade amid tensions with China




OTTAWA Premier Justin Trudeau joined his counterparts on both sides of the Pacific on Friday to sign a declaration focused on free trade and digital innovation as a means of economic recovery from the COVID pandemic -19.

The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Leaders’ Summit communiqué, its first joint statement in three years, sought common ground on the thorny issues of the free movement of commerce and telecommunications networks. It comes amid Canada’s tensions with China and the much larger dispute between Beijing and Washington.

The 21 APEC leaders underlined “coordinated action” on the pandemic at the meeting, hosted by Malaysia but held online because of the virus. They extended the sense of cooperation to international trade, with signatories committing to “predictable free, open, fair and non-discriminatory trade”.

The so-called Kuala Lumpur Declaration also underscored the “necessary reform” of the World Trade Organization, a process that Canada led among a handful of WTO members known as the Ottawa Group.

The words of a single statement are unlikely to prompt China to lift restrictions on canola imports from Canada, imposed in March 2019 in apparent retaliation for the arrest of Huawei chief Meng Wanzhou. Meng faces extradition to the United States to face fraud charges in a case that has become a weeping plague in the relationship between Ottawa and Beijing.

The ban on canola shipments from two major Canadian exporters has cost the industry nearly $ 2 billion so far, the Canola Council of Canada said on Friday.

The declaration places a strong emphasis on digital innovation, envisioning an “open, accessible and secure” telecommunications environment that would foster the development of digital infrastructure.

The apparent alignment belies a Western distrust of Chinese telecommunications companies such as Huawei, APEC members, Australia and the United States, banning the tech giant from building 5G wireless networks as the pressure is mounting to do the same in Canada.

A united federal opposition on Wednesday backed a Conservative motion to insist the Liberal government take a tougher line on what it says are threats to Beijing’s national security as Ottawa considers whether to allow Huawei to provide equipment for Canada’s next-generation 5G networks.

Much of the attention at Friday’s meeting was focused on Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Donald Trump. The latter refused to concede this month’s US presidential election to challenger Joe Biden, and has made a point of calling China on trade and security in the past.

The Trump administration at the last APEC summit in 2018 refused to sign a final declaration on these same issues. Friday likely marked one of the president’s last international gatherings after the November 3 election.

This year’s meeting also comes days after China joined nearly a dozen other Asian countries, along with Australia and New Zealand, in inking what is billed as the world’s largest free agreement. – trade in the world, which excludes Canada and the United States.

Trudeau broke off Thursday by saying Canada was interested in joining the new comprehensive regional economic partnership, but instead suggested that Ottawa would monitor Beijing’s behavior in the trade deal.

China “is an important player in the global economy that we must try to include and play under better international rules,” the premier said in a question-and-answer session at a side event in APEC Thursday.

“So if the RCEP deal is able to start creating a level playing field, that will be something very, very interesting. So we’ll be watching carefully.”

Friday’s APEC meeting will be followed this weekend by the G20 Leaders Summit, which is hosted by Saudi Arabia and will also focus on responding to the economic damage caused by the pandemic.

While the first summit of G20 leaders held in 2008 was supposed to guarantee a unified international response to the financial crisis that year, experts say the 12 years since have seen increasing polarization around the world come with increasing polarization around the world. more populism and instability.

“We are in a geopolitically polarized environment that is not improving,” said Fen Hampson, chancellor professor at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University in Ottawa.

“And unless there is a will on the part of the great powers to cooperate, even at a minimum, you just aren’t going to see a lot of action. So yes, you can get a press release. is likely to be fairly innocuous. “

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on November 20, 2020.

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