China and Canada declared Thursday that bilateral relations have reached "a new level" following a series of multibillion-dollar trade and business agreements to ship additional Canadian petroleum, uranium and other products to the Asian superpower.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Chinese leadership said Thursday their new energy and economic co-operation agreements — as well as billions of dollars of private-sector deals — signed by the two countries over the past few days are unprecedented and will only open the door to additional trade and investment.
Harper announced Thursday, following bilateral meetings with Chinese President Hu Jintao and Vice-Premier Li Keqiang, that the two partners have struck an agreement that will allow Canadian uranium companies to "substantially increase exports to China" to help the world's most populous country meet its growing need for nuclear power.
Canada and China have also agreed that a joint complementary economic study being conducted will be completed by May 2012, "after which Canada and China will proceed to exploratory discussions on deepening trade and economic relations."
China's political leaders say they're interested in exploring the feasibility of a full free-trade agreement.
It follows up their announcement Wednesday that negotiations have concluded on a foreign investment protection agreement that's nearly 20 years in the making, but still faces a legal review and ratification before it becomes law.
"The cumulative impact of these accords truly takes Canada-China relations to a new level," Harper told corporate leaders from both countries gathered in Beijing for the fifth Canada-China Business Forum.
The protocol to ship additional uranium to China is a legally binding agreement that supplements a 1994 pact between both sides for peaceful uses of nuclear energy.
It meets Canada's nuclear non-proliferation policies and obligations, the federal government said, and "will ensure that Canadian supplied uranium is being used in China's nuclear program strictly for peaceful, civilian purposes."
The prime minister also announced during his speech to the business forum that more than 20 commercial agreements — valued at close to $3 billion and involving nearly 50 Canadian and Chinese companies — have been signed during the trade mission to the Middle Kingdom.
"Canada has the resources, technological sophistication, and geo-strategic positioning to complement China's economic growth strategy. And China's growth, in turn, complements our determination to diversify our export markets," Harper told corporate leaders.
"We expect to see similar success stories in Canadian energy exports to China, once infrastructure is in place."
Harper has said building pipelines to the West Coast — such as the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway oilsands pipeline and a separate one for liquefied natural gas — is a national priority as Canada looks to ship its vast resources to Asia.
Enbridge CEO Pat Daniel said the commitment by the Chinese and Canadian governments for a strategic energy partnership will allow Canada to diversify its oil-and-gas export markets beyond the United States and enable China to broaden its supply base.
"The potential is huge," said Daniel, who has joined Harper in China for the trade mission. "The most important thing is a greater commitment from the Canadian government to broaden out markets for Canadian energy."
A separate deal was signed that will make it easier for Cameco Corp. and other uranium producers to sell nuclear fuel into the China's fast-growing market for atomic power.
Peter Kruyt, chairman of the Canada China Business Council, argued the large number of corporate deals struck in Beijing happened because of the prime minister's trade mission.
"He makes a huge difference. It's probably not the case in other countries trying to do business with Canada," Kruyt told reporters. "But in China, if the leadership has a relationship at the top levels, it trickles down."
Certainly, China is looking for more oil and gas from Canada, with Chinese vice-premier Li saying Thursday his country wants to increase imports of energy and natural resources from Canada.
State-owned Chinese oil and gas firms have invested more than $10 billion into Alberta's oilsands and B.C. shale gas plays over the past couple of years alone, and the two partners expect the trend will continue.
This just gets better and better, doesn’t it? Not only do we have to keep an eye on the Canadians building a shorter pipeline to their western coast to ship all of their oil overseas, but now they’re going to aggressively up the ante on delivering uranium to the Chinese. Oh, I know… you probably think I’m being an old worry wort, right? I mean, China would only use the fuel for peaceful, energy production purposes and would never “lose track” of any of it, right?To paraphrase a line from Stripes, "Nice going, jerk!"
Yet again we see that elections matter, and decisions coming from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. can have both immediate and long term effects not only here at home, but across the oceans as well. Harper’s deals wont be finalized until the Canadian legislature approves them, but they would be foolish indeed to turn it down with no assurances of a market in the U.S. There was never any doubt that Canada would pursue their own best economic and national interests and find a buyer for their resources. It was only a question of who would strike the right deal. And – again – I do not place any blame on Harper for this. He has to look out for Canada’s interests first, not ours. The fault here lies with the White House for playing politics with such a critical issue.