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Canada finally ratifies China deal, may help smooth relations

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By Randall Palmer

OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canada has finally ratified a foreign investment protection agreement with China after a two-year delay in a step that may help ease tensions between the two countries and smooth the way for a possible visit to China by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

International Trade Minister Ed Fast announced the ratification on Friday and said the agreement, designed to give investors greater legal certainty, would come into effect on Oct. 1. It was signed in September 2012.

Relations between Ottawa and Beijing have been strained by China’s detention last month of Canadians Kevin and Julia Garratt on suspicion they stole state secrets and for threatening national security. The Garratts, who ran a coffee shop in Dandong on the border with North Korea, deny the charges.

The Canadians were detained less than a week after Canada accused Chinese hackers of breaking into a government computer network, a charge Beijing denied.

A Canadian government official, however, dismissed any connection between the Garratts and the foreign investment protection agreement (FIPA), noting that the agreement was important on its own merits for promoting trade.

“Announcing the FIPA, and consular issues, are separate things that are dealt with separately,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The Chinese embassy declined to say whether the ratification could lead to freedom for the Garratts or to a Harper tour.

“The Chinese side is willing to work with the Canadian side to promote economic and trade cooperation to a new level, and further advance the development of China-Canada strategic partnership,” said embassy spokesman Yang Yundong.

The Chinese ambassador, Luo Zhaohui, said in an article last month that there were no difficulties that could not be overcome.

What China watchers are looking for is whether Harper will make a bilateral visit to China for a few days after attending a Nov. 10-11 Asian regional summit in Beijing, an idea both sides had informally discussed.

“Seeing as we’ve ratified this thing in good faith, one would hope that the Chinese would see their way clear to resolving our concerns over the arrest of the Garratts, which would then make it possible for the prime minister to have the three-day tour in China,” said Brock University professor Charles Burton, a former Canadian diplomat who served two tours in China.

“The prime minister appears to have taken a personal concern in this matter and really feels that it’s important to be resolved, or otherwise he’s unlikely to spend time with the Chinese leadership.”

Canada’s main opposition New Democratic Party criticized the agreement, saying it would give Chinese companies in Canada the right to sue if federal or provincial governments legislated environmental standards that affected their investments.

Paul Evans, a professor at the University of British Columbia, said that for all the talk about what the Chinese firms might do, it gave Canadian companies important protection in China.

“Almost everyone who’s looked at it (says) it’s the best (such agreement) anybody’s negotiated with China and is likely to be the template for some other negotiations,” he said.

The Canadian government says the agreement ensures greater protection against discriminatory and arbitrary practices and provides prompt compensation in the event of expropriation. It says the deal preserves the right of both sides to regulate in the public interest.

(Editing by Amran Abocar and Grant McCool)

Canadian business News

COVID-19: Canadian Entrepreneurs less pessimistic in April

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BC entrepreneurs less pessimistic in April

THE monthly Business Barometer index for British Columbia rose 8.2 points reaching an index of 46, according to the latest survey results from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB). The low index continues to reflect the significant stress and challenges entrepreneurs face as the navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. As British ColumbIa looks ahead in developing an economic relaunch strategy, a small business lens is necessary to streamline the transition.

“The month’s barometer results indicate small business owners are feeling less pessimistic than they did in March,” said Muriel Protzer, Senior Policy Analyst, BC and the North, on Wednesday. “While ongoing financial support from government is helping keep many businesses afloat, those receiving the benefits cannot rely on them indefinitely and some continue to fall through the cracks.”

Additional survey data from CFIB finds that 83 per cent of businesses believe it is critical they make more sales soon to survive and become less reliant on government subsides (13 per cent disagree, 4 per cent unsure).

“The province of BC will play an integral part in transitioning businesses and workers off of government support programs as we look to reopen parts of the economy,” added Protzer. “Early preparation for a recovery phase is important to ensure businesses and residents are provided clear messaging on guidelines.”

Furthermore, 75 per cent of BC businesses are confident they could reopen quickly if current restrictions were lifted (19 per cent disagree, 6 per cent unsure). As the province looks to develop its economic recovery strategy, small business owners see the following initiatives to take priority:

  • Keeping taxes on small businesses at an acceptable level (88 per cent agree);
  • Reduce red tape affecting businesses (65 per cent agree);
  • Introducing campaigns encouraging consumers to shop at local businesses (62 per cent agree);
  • Continued financial help (57 per cent agree); and
  • Ensuring the availability of personal protective equipment and mass testing to help people feel safe (54 per cent agree).

Measured on a scale between 0 and 100, an index level above 50 means owners expecting their business’ performance to be stronger in the next year outnumber those expecting weaker performance. An index level of between 65 and 75 means that the economy is growing at its potential. This month, it is notable to see no provincial index above 50 points.

To view the full report, visit http://www.cfib.ca/barometer  

The provincial numbers for April were: Quebec (32.1), Newfoundland (32.1), New Brunswick (39.2), PEI (43.1), Manitoba (45.0), Nova Scotia (45.3), BC (46.0), Alberta (46.7), Saskatchewan (50.8), Ontario (52.6).

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Skilled labor is discussed in agrifoods sector at roundtable in B.C.

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Agrifoods producers met with the provincial government today to discuss skilled labor initiatives and human resource planning as part of a series of roundtables being held over the coming months with sectors highlighted in the BC Jobs Plan.

British Columbia’s agrifoods sector is one of the most diverse in Canada. It provides the province with a competitive advantage and a wide range of opportunities for growth and innovation in agriculture, commercial fishing, aquaculture and food and beverage.

The roundtables, co-hosted with industry associations and employers, aim to stimulate discussion and create awareness about how sectors can access skilled labour and satisfy human resource requirements, as a result of an aging population. B.C. has reached a tipping point with fewer young people entering the workforce than older workers leaving it. These demographic realities, together with economic growth, place significant pressure on key sectors to find innovative solutions to address skills shortages. Through BC’s Skills for Jobs Blueprint, the Province is helping British Columbians get the skills they need to be first in line for these job openings.

Roundtable participants were invited to share information and discuss the unique challenges faced by processors in the agrifoods sector, specifically related to recruiting and training a qualified workforce, the promotion of B.C. export-ready products internationally and identifying opportunities for growth.

The sector-specific roundtables are another way government is working to provide employers and industry the opportunity to ask and respond to questions and inform the provincial government of key labour issues.

Quotes:

Norm Letnick, Minister of Agriculture –

“B.C. food producers help keep our families healthy, our communities vibrant and our economy strong. The B.C. government is committed to working with B.C.’s agriculture industry to best meet their labour market needs and ensure local food production continues to grow in British Columbia.”

Rhonda Driediger, director and former chair, B.C. Agriculture Council –

“The economic survival of many B.C. farms and supporting agrifood businesses depends upon farmers’ access to labour. We need to understand the diverse employment opportunities that exist within agriculture. The B.C. Agriculture Council appreciates government assisting farmers to find, develop and train the workers we need to help produce all our agricultural products and continue the growth of our industry.”

Quick Facts:

  • B.C. has more than 1,800 food and beverage manufacturing operations around the province.
  • In 2014, the agrifoods sector generated almost $12.3 billion in total revenue.
  • British Columbia has some of the most diverse agrifoods industries in Canada, producing more than 200 agriculture commodities and 100 seafood species.
  • More than 75% of B.C. seafood is destined for export.
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Canadian business News

Province of British Columbia affirms shipbuilding contracts

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Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training and Minister Responsible for Labour Shirley Bond has issued the following statement regarding shipbuilding contracts:

“As a coastal province, British Columbia has a vital interest in fostering its shipbuilding and industrial marine industries to keep our economy diverse, strong and growing. Shipbuilding and ship repairs represent billions of dollars of investment in B.C., creating thousands of jobs in our province.

“In 2011, Seaspan was named a successful bidder in the federal government’s competition under its National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy (NSPS) to replace Canada’s aging non-combat navy, coast guard and Fisheries and Oceans Canada vessels.

“We now understand that the Davie shipyard in Quebec has made an unsolicited bid to the federal government for this procurement that has already been awarded to Seaspan. This is unacceptable.

“Since being named the successful bidder, Seaspan has already invested $170 million to modernize their Vancouver and Victoria shipyards and are progressing well on their NSPS commitments to Canada. Seaspan employs more than 350 tradesmen and women and upwards of 350 engineers, program and supply chain managers and other professionals in delivering on its commitments to the Canadian Coast Guard and Royal Canadian Navy.

“We fully expect that the non-combat package of work awarded to Seaspan under NSPS is respected by the federal government. That work includes three offshore fisheries science vessels; one offshore oceanographic science vessel; two joint support ships; one polar icebreaker, as well as up to five medium endurance multi-tasked vessels and up to five offshore patrol vessels.

“We are confident Seaspan can deliver on its contracts and are pleased to see Seaspan’s NSPS commitments on target and on track.

“Our government supports creating a sustainable shipbuilding industry in B.C. and maximizing opportunities, resulting from more than $7 billion in federal shipbuilding commitments.”

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