Chinese billionaires' message to Trudeau: open trade and investment even further


OTTAWA – The head of a group of China’s most powerful business leaders says they plan to call on Justin Trudeau to open Canada’s trade and investment doors even wider to the Asian superpower.

Several members of the exclusive China Entrepreneur Club — often referred to as the billionaires club — met with the prime minister Tuesday for the second time in less than two months.

The entrepreneurs planned to press Trudeau to ease what they see as “excessively rigid regulations” that hold back Chinese investors, club president Ma Weihua said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

“We do have this very valuable opportunity to meet with Prime Minister Trudeau and he himself expressed very clearly to support the business collaborations in the two countries,” Ma said through an interpreter as club members attended a business luncheon hosted by Invest Ottawa.

“So, I think today we will take this chance to express to him some of our requests and also some of our concerns.”

At the meeting, Ma said the group wants to underline British Columbia’s new tax targeting foreign real estate investors in the sizzling Vancouver housing market — a measure he characterized as “unfair.”

On Monday, Frank Wu, one of China’s top real estate moguls, said in Montreal that his customers are troubled by B.C.’s 15 per cent tax. Wu, vice-president of the China Real Estate Industry Association, said he planned to raise the issue with Trudeau.

Ma said the group would encourage Trudeau to create “more-favourable conditions” in terms of government approval procedures and to open up more sectors to investment by Chinese companies, though he did not get into specifics about the requests.

He said the group wants to create a “win-win situation” for both countries by helping combine China’s vast market and capital with Canada’s wealth of human talent and cutting-edge technologies.

“Our primary purpose this time is to build the bridge, build those connections with our counterparts here in Canada,” Ma said.

The China Entrepreneur Club, made up of 50 top Chinese firms that earn a combined $585 billion of annual gross income, have many high-level meetings scheduled with Canada’s business and political elite.

The tour is taking place only a few weeks after an exchange of high-level official visits — Trudeau’s recent trip to China which was followed by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s visit to Canada.

The travelling members were scheduled to sit down with Trudeau north of Ottawa, near Quebec’s Meech Lake.

Trudeau has shown considerably more willingness to do business with the world’s second-biggest economy than the previous Conservative government — he’s even committed to launching exploratory free-trade talks.

Many Canadians have expressed skepticism about forging closer business and investment ties with China, a country frequently cited for its records on human rights, governance and the rule of law.

Asked about public mistrust in Canada, Ma said he would tell those people that the world economy’s recovery from sluggish growth needs each and every country to work together.

Observers, like former Canadian diplomat Charles Burton, have also said there are likely close ties between many of the club’s entrepreneurs and the Chinese leadership.

Burton, a Brock University political science professor, has warned the club may try to build a subtle lobby in Canada that encourages Canadian business leaders to pressure their governments to focus on economics in the relationship, rather than zeroing in on fears over sensitive issues like human rights and cybersecurity.

The first event of Trudeau’s first official trip to China was at a Beijing event hosted by the club. Jack Ma, founder of e-commerce giant Alibaba and the club’s chair, moderated a question-and-answer session with Trudeau.

Jack Ma did not accompany the Chinese delegation to Canada, but a dozen club members have made the trip.

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