by Christopher Guly
OTTAWA, Jan. 28 (Xinhua) -- Canada is prepared to kick off talks next month on a bilateral trade agreement with China, the newly-appointed Canadian Ambassador to China John McCallum said here Saturday.
In an exclusive interview with Xinhua, McCallum said that the Chinese officials are "enthusiastic on this free-trade issue, and so are we."
However, McCallum admitted that reaching a pact would take time, but hoped that the negotiations would move a lot faster than the decade it took Australia to reach a free-trade deal with China, which came into force in December 2015.
"Free trade deals are very complicated, and we have to make sure that any such deal is beneficial to Canadians -- and that's a lot of work," said the new ambassador, who was appointed by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau earlier this month when he was serving as the immigration minister.
He said that the process will benefit from a "very strong" China-Canada relationship, which dates back to the late 1930s when Canadian surgeon Norman Bethune sacrificed his life while assisting the Chinese against Japanese aggression. The bilateral ties were cemented under Canadian prime ministers, such as John Diefenbaker, who opened up Canada's wheat market to China in 1961, and Pierre Trudeau (father of the current prime minister), who became one of the first Western leaders to recognize the People's Republic of China.
McCallum is quite familiar with China, having travelled there more than a dozen times -- most recently last August when he sought more Canadian visa-application centers in China.
Born in Montreal 66 years ago, McCallum was appointed chief economist for the Royal Bank of Canada, before entering federal politics in 2000. He is expected to be in Beijing during the first half of March, pending the Chinese government's approval of his ambassadorial appointment.
McCallum's Malaysian-born wife, Nancy Lim, is ethnic Chinese and speaks Mandarin and Cantonese fluently.
The ambassador-designate hopes to work on his language skills while in Beijing.
"If I memorize it, I can give a five-sentence speech in Mandarin for Chinese New Year. I cannot carry on a conversation in Mandarin, but I hope to improve that," the Canadian diplomat said.