CIC Victoria: Royal Roads University students and CIC Victoria members debate trade with China

Nov 9, 2018 | Event Summary

On November 6, 80 Masters of Global Management (MGM) students studying at Royal Roads University (RRU) and some 50 members from CIC Victoria met to explore the pros and cons of a trade agreement between Canada and China. The debate, and follow-on discussion, was moderated by CIC Victoria member Jonathan Manthorpe. Jonathan, a well-known journalist and author was well suited to the task, in particular because he has written a great deal about China and has a new book coming out next February called: Claws of the Panda – Beijing’s Campaign of Influence and Intimidation in Canada.

To start the evening, Jonathan provided a balanced overview of China’s role in the world. The follow-on debate was then led by two RRU School of Business Associate Faculty members, Dr. Jeff Kucharski and Hugh Stephens. The topic for the debate was “Canada and China: Now, Never or Later”. Mr. Stephens argued that now is the time for Canada to engage with China on efforts to establish closer trading ties, although the recent update of NAFTA has constrained Canada’s ability to conclude a full Free Trade Agreement (FTA). Nevertheless, he noted that there are opportunities to explore various sectoral arrangements, which will contribute to Canada’s trade diversification. Mr. Stephens referred to public opinion polling that indicated strong support among Canadians for closer economic ties with China, although there were concerns about other aspects of China’s governance and activities. In conclusion, he argued that it is important to engage with China while China is interested in improving trade ties and that there is no advantage in waiting. In fact, waiting will reduce Canada’s leverage.

Dr. Kucharski recognized the important role that China plays in the global economy but argued that now is not the time to engage with China on negotiating a trade agreement. China currently presents a challenge to the “rules-based order” that has prevailed since WWII and its behaviour, including state-sponsored economic and technological espionage, cyber hacking, suppression of religious and ethnic minorities, disregard for United Nations conventions in the South China Sea and other concerns present real risks to Canada’s democratic society and open economy. While it is in Canada’s longer-term interest to forge a free trade agreement with China, the risks of engaging in a trade deal now outweigh the benefits, in the short term at least. The power relationship between Canada and China, he added, is highly asymmetric and so Canada should first work in concert with its allies and partners and with global institutions such as the WTO to encourage China to adhere to international norms and to level the playing field for Canadian businesses competing in China. Furthermore, said Dr. Kucharski, Canada should also develop a domestic strategy to ensure Canada’s sovereignty and security can be assured before further opening Canada’s markets to China, otherwise Canada could become the weak link in our very important security alliances. In the meantime, Canada can further diversify its markets by fully exploiting FTA’s that are already in place, especially the CETA and CPTPP.

Following the formal debate, CIC members and MGM students mixed together at numerous tables, were given specific questions to consider and discuss related to the topic. After 30 minutes of discussion, a “rapporteur” for each table then provided a short round-up on their thoughts for everyone else present. During this phase of the evening, it was gratifying to see the interaction between the MGM students, many of whom have recently arrived in Canada to undertake their studies, and CIC members, many of whom are retired or semi-retired professionals with wide experience in Canada and abroad. Indeed, many of the MGM students are from India, and they provided another important perspective during the table discussions. While there was no consensus among the attendees, there was common agreement that Canada needs to diversify its trade relations and that China was an important partner to consider. Post-event, the interactive nature of the evening elicited very positive feedback from those involved and the day after, 10 MGM students joined CIC Victoria. The event venue itself was superb and the sponsorship by RRU most kind. Already, plans are afoot for the next debate!