With three trips to China in less than two years, Canada's Trade Minister is beginning to look a lot like its overeager salesman.
"Whether it's oil, whether it's gas, whether it's uranium, coal, hydro or clean energy like solar and wind power, we've got it," Ed Fast told a room of Chinese and Canadian executives at a gala dinner in Beijing Tuesday night, while once again extolling the benefits of Canada's strong fiscal position, educated work force and safe banking system. "Chinese investors looking for stability, innovation, low taxes and an excellent North American platform and gateway need look no further than Canada."
It's the first minister's trip to China since Canada approved oil giant CNOOC's takeover of Nexen Energy in February. Though new investor guidelines suggest CNOOC's $15.1-billion deal is unlikely to be repeated in Canada's oil patch, the message during an unusually long Asia tour this month has been that Canada is still open to investment.
The last 11 days in China and Japan have included a trade mission from a group of ICT and medical-imaging companies looking for opportunities, meet-and-greets for a group of Canadian cities who've banded together to encourage Chinese investors, and tomorrow, the third round of a Canadian tourism contest, "Canada– You're A Star" which sends a lucky Chinese couple on an all-expenses tour through the best Canada has to offer, from deluxe spas in the Rockies to Niagara Falls, wilderness adventure in Algonquin Park and the cobblestones of old Quebec City, on the condition they blog their adventures and appear in a TV travel series for broadcast back home.
The mission continues in China Wednesday before the Minister travels on to Indonesia.
China is now Canada's second-largest trading partner and its second-largest export destination after the United States, with two-way trade reaching $70-billion last year. Gone are the days of political hostility; the much-anticipated Nexen deal was finalized in February, and two giant pandas, Er Shun and Da Mao, were delivered on loan from China to the Toronto Zoo just weeks afterward.
Mr. Fast also became the first of Canada's cabinet to meet any of China's new leadership team since President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang were formally installed last month. Mr. Fast was granted audiences with new Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng, NDRC Vice-Chairman Zhang Xiaoqiang, new Vice-Premier Wang Yang and Zhi Shuping, the minister in charge of China's quality supervision administration.
Data released this week showed ill economic winds are crippling China's exports and it appears even its previous double-digit growth seems to be sliding back to earth, down to 7.7 per cent in first quarter. Still, Canada argues its relationship with China is growing, to the tune of $5-billion a year in each of 2011 and 2012.
"Clearly the Canada-China relationship continues to grow even in the light of challenges from the global economy," Mr. Fast said in an interview. "In my conversations with my counterparts today it was simply an expression of thanks for approving this [Nexen] transaction, and, I believe, an expression of confidence that that decision has sent a very clear signal to China that Canada values its trade and investment relationship with China. And that China will continue to put a special focus on that relationship."