The Canada-China relationship – how we keep up the momentum

by Ailish Campbell. Posted November 4, 2013


The CCCE, in partnership with Canada 2020, held an event titled “Canada-China Relations, Keeping up the Momentum”. At the event,Wendy Dobson of Rotman presented her book, Partners and Rivals:  The uneasy future of China’s relationship with the United States. She exhorted Canadians to anticipate the future, when China will move up the value chain in sectors such as rail, advanced manufacturing and clean teach and look for innovation partners. Canada can play in this space. Dr. Dobson noted Canada is seen positively but not strategically in China.

Thoughtful views from Ralph Lutes of Teck, and Bruce Simpson of McKinsey, brought out the key business opportunities and importance of China to Canada’s economy. Mr. Simpson challenged Canada to think about helping China get its cities right – we have three of the best cities in the world in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. If current trends hold, by 2025 China will have 221 cities with one million–plus inhabitants, says McKinsey. Canada has the expertise to help China get its cities right.

Premier Brad Wall set out his vision for Saskatchewan’s engagement with China, driven in large part by agriculture and energy products.  Given the huge opportunities for Canada, what we need, in Premier Wall’s view, is a long term vision.

What might that long term vision for deeper Canada-China engagement entail?  Here are five thoughts:

  1. Create a Strategic Partnership at the leaders’ level, as Australia has done.  Our PM, of no matter what political stripe, could engage on a yearly basis with his counterpart.  This is a matter of smart geopolitical and economic management. In a multipolar world, and with such a solid base in Canada’s relationship with the USA, we need to think about a similarly high level, complex, and regular series of “top to top” engagement with China.
  2. A Team Canada approach to China to match our competitors.  Government and business need to work together to create opportunities for Canadian firms.  This is especially important for aerospace and energy. Choose sectors where Canada is a winner and align with Chinese needs.
  3. Ensure we have open trade and investment regimes.  Taking the next steps in our trade relationship with China – either through sectoral agreements, free trade negotiations, or encouraging China to join TPP – is important to keeping up the momentum.
  4. Encourage as many student exchanges, cultural visits and two-way tourism as is possible.  Our people to people ties are essential for understanding one another, and deepening public awareness and engagement with China.
  5. Think about the skills of the future Canadians will need to take advantage of China and Asian growth markets.  Then act to improve them.  Language skills, cultural awareness, team problem solving, STEM skills to help China build great cities and a better environment.  These skills need all of our education systems – JK to 12, colleges, universities, think tanks, skilled trades – to be partners.

The CCCE and its member companies will continue to build on the knowledge developed during our 2012 conference, Canada in the Pacific Century, to engage Canada in discussions on the opportunities Asia’s rise provides.

Ailish Campbell is Vice President, Policy, International and Fiscal Issues, at the Canadian Council of Chief Executives.