Skip to main content
A scary good deal on trusted journalism
Get full digital access to globeandmail.com
$0.99
per week for 24 weeks SAVE OVER $140
OFFER ENDS OCTOBER 31
A scary good deal on trusted journalism
$0.99
per week
for 24 weeks
SAVE OVER $140
OFFER ENDS OCTOBER 31
// //

A Helijet helicopter flies past gantry cranes and shipping containers at the Port of Vancouver while landing on the harbour in Vancouver, on Wednesday, March 11, 2020.

DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

Canada’s business with China appears to be thriving during the pandemic even as diplomatic relations remain in a deep freeze.

Exports to China increased close to 10 per cent in the first seven months of the COVID-19 pandemic over the same period a year previous, according to new analysis from the Canadian International Development Platform (CIDP), which is part of the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University.

This growth occurred even as exports, by value, to many other traditional customers sunk during the pandemic, which hit Canada in March.

Story continues below advertisement

Overall, Canadian exports fell nearly 20 per cent in the same March to September period, CIDP’s analysis of Statistics Canada data shows. For instance, exports to the United States declined 22 per cent in this period.

Exports to China for the March to September period exceeded $14.7-billion, compared with $13.4-billion in 2019.

Aniket Bhushan, an adjunct research professor at the Norman Paterson School, said one of the reasons exports to China are growing is that sales are rebounding from a bad year in 2019 when China punished Canada for arresting Huawei Technologies chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou. China blocked sales of pork and beef for several months in 2019.

Still, Prof. Bhushan said, Canadian exports to China appear to be on track to exceed 2018 levels by the end of this year.

Perrin Beatty, president of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, said Canadian exports to China are up in 2020 because China’s economy is one of the few that will grow this year. The country, where COVID-19 first appeared, recovered much more quickly than most and is expected to expand economic output by a modest 2.1 per cent this year.

Diplomatic relations between China and Canada have steadily eroded since late 2018 when Canada arrested Ms. Meng on a U.S. extradition request and Beijing locked up two Canadians – Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor – in what Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has called an effort to exert “political pressure.” Beijing applied, and then lifted, restrictions barring imports of Canadian pork and beef, while Canada’s two biggest exporters of canola seed remain barred from shipping to the Chinese market.

In October, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland denounced China’s ambassador to Canada for threatening Canadians living in Hong Kong, saying envoy Cong Peiwu overstepped his diplomatic role when he warned granting asylum to pro-democracy dissidents could jeopardize the “health and safety” of 300,000 Canadians living in the Asian city. Mr. Cong was also reprimanded by the Global Affairs department.

Story continues below advertisement

Trade data analyzed by CIDP show rising exports to China include ores, cereal grains such as wheat, meat, animal or vegetable fats, and vegetables. Statistics compiled by the federal agriculture and agri-food department show that in September, for instance, Canada exported 61,570 metric tonnes of pork to China compared with 346 tonnes in September, 2019.

Mr. Beatty, whose organization represents 200,000 Canadian businesses, said the political differences between Ottawa and Beijing should not be allowed to “contaminate our commercial relationships.” He said it “makes no sense for the Chinese to use imports of Canadian agri-food as a weapon” and that “politicizing trade” destroys the benefits of trade.

“Half a century ago, Canada supplied China with wheat when other countries refused to sell to them. It was the right decision, and both Canadian farmers and the Chinese people benefited,” he said.

Gordon Houlden, director of the University of Alberta’s China Institute, suggested that China is being pragmatic in dealing with Canada for economic and political reasons.

“I think there may be a desire not to make things worse on the political side because taking the two Canadians has not worked out and maybe there is a desire not to add economic pressure to the equation,” he said.

In a recent report, the China Institute documented how China is continuing to buy Canadian agricultural goods at a solid pace.

Story continues below advertisement

David Mulroney, a former Canadian ambassador to China, said that aside from arresting Ms. Meng – who is fighting extradition to the U.S. in a B.C. court – Ottawa has avoided taking significant measures that might antagonize Beijing.

By comparison, Australia has faced an increasing list of trade reprisals from China after challenging China in ways Canada hasn’t. Australia has banned Huawei from 5G networks, called for an inquiry into the origins of COVID-19, and led a pushback against authoritarian states by enacting a law to monitor agents acting for foreign governments.

Prof. Houlden said it would be unwise for Canada to try to decouple its trade with China. He added that trade accounts for 64 per cent of Canada’s GDP, compared with 24 per cent for the U.S. and 37 per cent for China.

“We are far more export dependent than China and we can’t maintain our prosperity without that, so [the] idea that we can’t or shouldn’t sell to China is not sustainable,” he added.

While Canadian canola seed exports continue to face targeted restrictions from Beijing, the China Institute report said 2020 has been marked by relative gains in both export value and tonnage. The cumulative value of canola seed exports to China has risen by 52 per cent on a year-to-date basis to $976-million. That’s still far below the $2.7-billion in canola seed Canada exported in 2018, however.

Know what is happening in the halls of power with the day’s top political headlines and commentary as selected by Globe editors (subscribers only). Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the authors of this article:

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies