Justin Trudeau searches in vain for new free-trade partners

JUSTIN TRUDEAU, Canada’s prime minister, set off for China on December 2nd amid speculation that the two countries would start free-trade talks. Canada needs new markets because the United States is turning inward. China wants to gain better access to Canada’s commodities and technology and to set a precedent for talks with other G7 countries. Although they have been talking about trade for more than a year, Mr Trudeau will return with no agreement to start negotiations.

Mr Trudeau’s Liberal government has suffered other recent setbacks on trade. At a meeting in Danang, Vietnam, last month, Japan blamed Canada for delaying a new version of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an agreement from which Donald Trump withdrew the United States. The snag was Canada’s request for protection of its culture. Renegotiation of the North American Free-Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with the United States and Mexico is going badly. For a country whose trade is the equivalent of 64% of GDP, that is worrying.

Mr Trudeau thinks one way to counter a backlash in the West against globalisation would be to make trade agreements include strict standards for labour, the environment and human rights. The European Union agrees, and signed a comprehensive trade agreement with Canada last year. But other trade partners, whose standards, unlike Europe’s, are very different from Canada’s,…

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