Canada’s premiers are planning a trade mission to China

Federal health funding, innovation in health-care delivery and crafting an updated Canadian energy strategy are also expected to feature prominently at the meetings, as is an escalating fight between British Columbia and Alberta over the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway oilsands pipeline. The last first ministers meeting was held more than three years ago, as the prime minister and premiers gathered to discuss the economy following the 2008 global financial crisis. A handful of other premiers say they believe a first ministers meeting with Harper would be useful as long as it could produce some concrete results on specific issues. At their summer meetings last year in Vancouver, the premiers called on Harper to lead a first ministers mission to Asia within a year. The premiers, however, aren’t waiting for the prime minister’s lead and are planning their own mission in September to market Canada’s vast natural resources and promote their provinces as open for investment.

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Chinese trade with Africa hits new high

Commerce Minister Chen Deming wrote in the China Daily newspaper that total trade between China and Africa hit a record high of US$166 billion ($256 billion) last year. Chen said direct Chinese investment in Africa reached US$14.7 billion by the end of last year, a 60 per cent increase from two years earlier.

Close co-operation enabled them to weather the 2008 global crisis, Chen wrote. “As a result, the trade and economic co-operation has witnessed faster growth across wider areas in more diversified forms, bringing more tangible benefits to the Chinese and African people.”

China has emerged as Africa’s main trading partner and a major source of investment for infrastructure development, pouring billions of dollars into roads and developing the energy sector across the continent. But its presence has also sparked concerns about labour abuses and corruption.

In May, Zimbabwe’s Labour Minister said the Government was investigating persistent reports of rampant abuse of workers by Chinese employers.

 In Zambia, complaints about Chinese business practices stretch back years. Human Rights Watch said in a November report that despite improvements in recent years, safety and labour conditions at Chinese-owned copper mines in Africa were worse than at other foreign-owned mines, and Chinese mine managers often violated government regulations.

In a speech on relations with Africa last week that was by turns celebratory and combative, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhai Jun hit back at unidentified critics of China’s growing influence in Africa. Zhai denied China was practising a new form of colonialism. Instead, he said, China’s economic and political backing was giving African countries options they never had before under a Western-led world order.

“We stand fully with African countries in upholding sovereignty and dignity and exploring development paths,” Zhai said. He later said: “The unfair and unreasonable political and economic order is still an obstacle hindering Africa’s economic development.”