Canada hopeful tourism deal with China possible but keeps WTO action in hand


BEIJING – International Trade Minister David Emerson says he’s hopeful negotiations for a tourism agreement with China can be re-started quickly, but Canada is prepared to take the issue before the World Trade Organization if that doesn’t happen soon.

Speaking to reporters from Beijing, the trade minister blamed China for the lack of progress in talks which began three years ago.

In the meantime, China has negotiated an Approved Destination Status agreement with the United States – as it has with about 130 other countries – which Emerson says is placing Canadian tourism at a competitive disadvantage.

“We don’t want to have to go to the WTO, but if we can’t resolve it through negotiations we’ll have to do that,” he said in a conference call.

“Much of the tourism from China to the United States would normally include a portion of it to Canada, and not to have an Approved Destination Status for Canada really does become a discriminatory policy.”

Approved destination status would allow the Canadian tourism industry to actively market in China while allowing Chinese travel agents to promote their travel packages in Canada. China agreed in 2005 to begin talks on the issue.

China’s reluctance to offer Canada the same arrangement as most countries is believed to be based on Ottawa’s refusal to deport refugee claimant Lai Changxing, who is wanted in China on smuggling charges.

Emerson said he has not been specifically told the reason for the impasse, adding he did not want to speculate.

The minister, however, said the two countries were much closer to signing a foreign investment promotion and protection agreement (FIPA), saying talks on a pact that would protect investments were “within striking distance.”