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Trudeau defends progressive trade agenda as China talks sputter

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Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stuck with his progressive message on trade, even as his government's efforts to launch formal talks with China appeared increasingly doomed.

[OTTOWA] Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stuck with his progressive message on trade, even as his government's efforts to launch formal talks with China appeared increasingly doomed.

Mr Trudeau said in a speech Wednesday that he and Chinese President Xi Jinping discussed the need to work together on economic growth. He again called for China to adopt elements it doesn't usually seek in trade deals, such as provisions for labour, gender and environmental rights.

"We discussed the expanding relationship between Canada and China, as we continue exploratory discussions on comprehensive -- and progressive -- trade between our two countries," Mr Trudeau said at the Fortune Global Forum in Guangzhou, referring to his dinner with Mr Xi on Tuesday evening in Beijing.

"By keeping our borders open, and pursuing progressive trade deals that put people first and reflect our values, we give our businesses access to more customers, and we give our customers greater access to the goods they want," he said.

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Canada's trade strategy is in flux after the expected launch of formal negotiations with China was derailed, leaving both sides scrambling to find the right message to bridge the gap. Mr Trudeau unexpectedly left his trade minister behind in Beijing late Tuesday to continue discussions, spurring hopes they could still reach an agreement to pursue a trade deal.

Even so, Mr Trudeau is running out of time before he's scheduled to return to Ottawa on Thursday night. His push for progressive elements has upended talks on the North American Free Trade Agreement and the revamped Trans-Pacific Partnership as he looks to diversify his options and expand markets for Canadian exports amid US President Donald Trump's protectionist threats.

Mr Trudeau made a pitch for investment at the economic forum Wednesday, touting Canada's stable and predictable environment, low business costs and stable banking system.

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