Canada Looking For Its Own China Trade Deal

Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, speaks at the Fortune Global Forum 2017.
Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, speaks at the Fortune Global Forum 2017. Fortune Global Forum 2017 Guangzhou, China 10:30am - 10:50am GLOBAL LEADERSHIP: THE VIEW FROM CANADA A Conversation With: The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau Prime Minister of Canada Photograph by Stefen Chow/Fortune
Stefen Chow for Fortune

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Hello from Guangzhou, China, where the sunny skies have turned overcast, but global business and political leaders remain cheerfully optimistic about China’s future.

Everything is big here, including the companies presenting. I already mentioned that our opening day began with fireside chats with the CEOs of three of the biggest companies operating in China: Alibaba, Apple, and Tencent. (I wish Jeff Bezos, whose business has struggled in China, had been here; then we could have coined a new label: Triple A plus T.)

Wednesday afternoon I interviewed Terry Gou, the legendary Taiwanese founder of Foxconn, which rose to fame by manufacturing in China for Apple, Dell, Samsung and just about any other consumer electronics manufacturer who matters. Gou spoke favorably about the businessman-President of the United States and Foxconn’s planned $10 billion investment in Wisconsin. He also stressed that Foxconn is far more than a “contract” manufacturer these days because it adds design, materials-science, and other inputs for its clients. Foxconn had $140 billion in revenues last year and employs 1.3 million people, by the way. That’s big.

Speaking of big, we had dinner Wednesday night at the massive Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall in Guangzhou, where we watched a glorious dance performance that married ancient Cantonese opera with hip-hop themes. Really. It was inspiring to see a projected image of “Fortune” emblazoned on the side of the hall. A revolutionary who founded modern China, Sun is acceptable to all sides of the Chinese political debate, a dinner companion of mine explained. Sun also was a native of Guangdong province, of which Guangzhou is the capital.

Thursday morning I moderated a panel on artificial intelligence. The star of the show was Liu Qingfeng, chairman of IFLYTEK, which is working on mind-blowing speech recognition technology that will be able to do things like allow a driver to instruct their car what to do. This is a company to watch.

Financier Henry Kravis and AB InBev CEO Carlos Brito both talked up their China investments, KKR’s in animal husbandry and AB InBev’s in beer. Brito said that until recently China absorbed best practices from the rest of world but now is exporting them.

Finally, Canadian Prime Minster Justin Trudeau—who appeared onstage with no jacket, rolled-up sleeves, and a not-quite-tightened tie—defended the possibility that Canada will conduct a bilateral trade deal with China. Asked how China’s human rights record will sit with Canada’s progressive citizens Trudeau said: “Every trade deal in the world is by definition between two different places. There’s always going to be a figuring out of how to interface two different systems in a way that is mutually beneficial.” He called China a “world leader” on environmental policy, an attribute Canadians will appreciate. On balance, his was a diplomatic echo of Apple’s Tim Cook’s “in the arena” comment the day before.

Incidentally, Fortune and Canada made big news Thursday: Next year’s Fortune Global Forum will be in Canada. The prime minister welcomed the entire audience to the event.

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