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September, 28, 2016

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Canada, China agree to start talks on free-trade agreement

OTTAWA--Canada and China have agreed to begin talks for a possible free-trade accord with an aim of doubling bilateral commerce by 2025, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Thursday.

"We've agreed to launch exploratory talks towards a potential free-trade agreement between Canada and China," Trudeau said at a joint news conference with visiting Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.

"And further to this, we've set an ambitious new goal to double bilateral trade between Canada and China by 2025."

China is Canada's second-largest trading partner after the United States, with trade last year exceeding 85 billion Canadian dollars (US$64.5 billion).

"We know that there is a huge amount of untapped potential in our commercial relationship," Trudeau noted.

Li's visit to Ottawa comes one month after Trudeau made a trip to Beijing looking to "renew and deepen" Sino-Canadian relations.

The Chinese leader praised the reboot after a decade of cooling under the previous Canadian administration, saying through an interpreter: "We believe that China and Canada have extensive common interests and good relations."

"These back-to-back visits in less than a month shows that China-Canada relations are moving to a new stage," Li told reporters.

And these are just the first visits. Trudeau and Li agreed to meet annually to discuss security and the rule of law, and economic and financial matters. Their respective foreign ministers will also hold annual talks.

"Stepping up communications will increase mutual understanding and allow for proper handling of the issues and differences that we have," Li said.

On Thursday, the two leaders also announced a lifting of Chinese bans on imports of Canadian canola (by 2020) and beef, and a tourism agreement that seeks to double two-way visits by 2025.

Last month, Canada said it would apply to join the China-backed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which has been criticized by its neighbor and closest ally, the United States, but was welcomed by Li.

Extradition Treaty Controversial

A request by Beijing for an extradition treaty with Canada, which Trudeau has agreed to consider, has ruffled opposition parties in Ottawa, however.

On Wednesday, just before Li's plane landed in Ottawa, opposition parties assailed the plan in parliament, raising concerns that expatriates sent back to China could face human rights abuses, and the death penalty.

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Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greets Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, left, as he holds an expanded meeting in the Cabinet room on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, Sept. 22. (AP)

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