The Canadian business community has pushed Ottawa to launch free-trade talks with Beijing. What it got instead this weekend was the removal of an annoyance, as China agreed to provide 10-year multiple-entry visas to Canadian travellers crossing the Pacific for business, tourism or family purposes.
In Vancouver on Sunday, trade minister Ed Fast said the change will "reduce costs, cut red tape" and make life easier for Canadian companies.
The arrangement was first announced in Beijing by China's Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, who said the agreement would have the countries "issuing visas to each other's citizens with the validity period of up to 10 years." But Canada actually began providing 10-year visas to Chinese citizens as early as 2012. In November of 2014, China and the United States also reached a mutual 10-year visa arrangement.
Up until now, Canadian business travellers were typically placed on a graduating scale, often with a single-entry visa for the first visit, and then multiple-entry visas with increasingly long periods of time on subsequent occasions. The visas were primarily an inconvenience. Sarah Kutulakos, executive director of the Canada China Business Council could not recall a single business traveller who was denied.
Still, "it's really a nice thing," she said. "It's just a real pain to have to go get a visa."
The primary push from the business community, however, is for Ottawa to make progress on a free-trade agreement with China, which it has resisted amid broader concerns among Canadians over giving Chinese companies legally-binding rights in their trade with Canada. The business community argues that Canadian coking coal and barley producers will be at a disadvantage when an Sino-Australian free-trade agreement comes into effect, knocking down Chinese tariffs on Australian imports, while keeping those tariffs on Canadian products.