Canada having more free-trade dialogue with China: minister

Canada's International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Canada, February 17, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

TORONTO (Reuters) - Dialogue with China about a free-trade agreement has increased since Canada’s new Liberal government took office late last year, Canada’s international trade minister said on Wednesday.

Chrystia Freeland made the comment in an interview after an event in Toronto where Xue Bing, China’s consul general in Toronto, said Canada and China should start negotiations on a bilateral free-trade agreement as soon as possible.

Freeland declined to say whether informal negotiations had started on a deal, but said there had been “increased dialogue” around the issue since November.

Expanding trade with China is one the goals cited by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in his mandate letter to Freeland.

Trade deals typically take years to negotiate. The Liberals said in January they would take the “technical step” of signing a 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, but have not yet said whether they will formally ratify it. The deal does not include China.

In her speech at the event on Wednesday, Freeland also noted that when in opposition the Liberals made it clear that it was “a lost opportunity” for Canada not to have joined the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) as a founding member.

“We are a government that likes to keep its promises, so stay tuned,” she said in the speech.

Canada’s former Conservative government had said last year it was actively considering joining the AIIB, despite U.S. and Japanese reservations, but Canada was not among the 50 nations that signed the articles of agreement.

Editing by Sandra Maler