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Canada Hopes to Acquire Placement on ADS List
Canada Hopes to Acquire Placement on ADS List

The Canadian government is hopeful it will soon be able to conclude an agreement initiated four years ago with China that will greatly increase the number of Chinese tourists allowed into the country.

In early 2005, China tentatively agreed to grant Canada Approved Destination Status (ADS), a bilateral agreement that will allow the Canadian tourism industry to actively market travel opportunities in China and permit Chinese travel agents to advertise travel packages to Canada.

Since then, however, a final agreement still has not been reached, despite the fact that more than 90 other countries - including the US - have achieved the ADS designation. Talks between Canada and China became bogged down amid signals that Canada's government was distancing itself from China. Few trade missions were launched and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper publicly criticized China over human rights issues.

But the rift between the two countries now appears to be healing, with a flurry of activity designed to build business and economic ties to the Asian giant.

Stockwell Day, Canada's minister of international trade, last month met with various officials in China and launched new trade offices in Chengdu and Shenzhen. Lawrence Cannon, Canada's foreign minister, met with Chinese Vice-President Xi Jinping in Beijing in May, and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is expected to visit China this fall.

In a statement to China Daily, Canada's Ministry of International Trade suggested concluding that an ADS agreement with China be a priority.

"We are hoping that China will engage in a meaningful way in negotiations toward an operational ADS agreement in the near future," the statement said.

Even without the ADS agreement, the number of Chinese visitors to Canada is already climbing, rising 5.3 per cent to 156,000 in 2007, according to the Canadian government. The Canadian Tourism Commission expects visits to jump by more than 40 percent in the first year alone under the ADS.

John Reber, a spokesman for Air Canada, said the Canadian government has not informed the carrier about any new developments on the ADS file. The Canadian airline, which has flights to Beijing and Shanghai from both Toronto and Vancouver, cut its capacity to China by 50 percent last year to 14 flights a week amid high fuel costs and the global economic slump.

Air Canada also plans to boost the number of flights to China to 24 flights a week this summer. "This is a seasonal occurrence, to align capacity with seasonal changes in travel demand," Reber said. It "is not related to an expectation that Canada will obtain ADS by this summer."

It has been widely speculated that one of the reasons the ADS status is in limbo is due to Chinese concern that it may allow criminals to seek refugee status in Canada. For example, Lai Changxing, a Chinese national, was accused of masterminding a $10 billion smuggling ring and fled to Canada in 1999. Even though a deportation order was issued, he has been able to stay in Canada partly because of a federal judge's ruling that he could be at risk of torture if sent back to China.

"Because of the Changxing case, China really has this impression that if they open it all up, a lot of potential criminals will come in and then claim they should be able to stay indefinitely because of human rights issues," said Wenran Jiang, Mactaggart Research Chair of the University of Alberta's China Institute.

While Canada clearly has much to gain from the ADS agreement - namely, millions of dollars in new tourism revenues - the Chinese government may believe there isn't enough incentive for them to take on the risks, Jiang added.

Canada must improve political relations if an ADS deal is to be concluded, and the prime minister's expected visit this fall - which still has not been finalized - will be key, said Jiang.

"Harper has to be there personally, charming the Chinese enough to get concessions in some way."


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