OTTAWA — Canada is being left behind by what is being promoted as the world’s next big economic bloc.
The federal government began talking about joining the Asian International Investment Bank under the previous Conservative government, and although a promise to expand Canada’s trade ties was a key platform of the Liberal election platform, little has happened on that front since the election.
In the works since 2013 but not officially launched until January of this year, the AIIB is moving on without us.
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The fledgling China-led investment body has grown to include nearly 60 nations — including Australia, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Russia — will hold its inaugural annual general meeting June 25 and 26 in Beijing.
Chrystia Freeland, the minister for international trade, said in a recent speech that her party made it “very clear that … Canada failing to join the Asian Infrastructure (Investment) Bank as a founding member was a lost opportunity of the previous government.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, in his mandate letter to Freeland, said the government should pay “particular attention” to China when it comes to trade issues.
“We do, already, have a meaningful economic relationship with China. China is our second-largest trading partner,” Freeland said during a March speech to the Canada China Business Council in Toronto.
Regarding the AIIB, however, she told the audience to “stay tuned.”
“We are a government that likes to keep its promises,” she said.
Movement towards Canada joining the AIIB is certainly on the federal agenda, but the timing of any decision remains a few months away. First, Canada needs to be invited to join the 57 other current members, and that is not expected to happen before the AIIB’s annual meeting at the end of June, nor during that gathering.
“We are giving careful consideration to joining the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank,” said senior Finance spokesman Jack Aubry. “The government sees the benefits of investing in high-quality infrastructure projects backed by sound policies, which will sustain growth in the Asia region and lend additional support to global growth more broadly.”
Even so, the AIIB’s board of governors “has yet to formally indicate that it is accepting new members,” Aubry said.
But with China holding this year’s presidency of the Group of 20 industrialized counties, there will be ample opportunity for discussions between Canada and China on the sidelines of those global meetings — and no doubt AIIB will be a major theme of those talks.
What does appear to be off the table, for now, is a full-blown free-trade agreement between Canada and China, the world’s second-largest economy — a deal that has been long anticipated.
Despite recent media reports, “Canada is not engaged in FTA negotiations with China,” said Alex Lawrence, press secretary for Freeland.
However, Lawrence said expanding trade with China “is a key piece” of the minister’s push to find new markets for Canadian goods.
“We are certainly looking at all avenues to further deepen our trade and investment relationship.”