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Last-minute jet deal lifts Team Canada tally

HONG KONG — In a final flurry of contract signings, handshaking and backslapping, Prime Minister Jean Chretien wrapped up his second Team Canada trade mission to China yesterday.

"We've done a lot of good business," Chretien said at his closing news conference, adding the 10-day trip was "a great success."

But it took a last-minute deal by Bombardier to pump up an embarrassingly small number of trade contracts in Hong Kong.

Without Bombardier's 11th- hour sale of six Regional Jets for $210 million, signed contracts would have totalled only $51 million.

The total of $261 million in firm contracts is significantly smaller than the $1.4 billion worth signed in Beijing at the start of the 10-day mission.

Still, Chretien's largest-ever Team Canada trip, involving more than 600 entrepreneurs, premiers and territorial leaders, saw 294 agreements reached worth $5.7 billion if they all come to fruition.

That's less than the 1994 Team Canada trade mission to China that netted $8.9 billion in deals.

Ontario Premier Mike Harris warned against judging the mission's success by the amount of deals signed.

"Its not a good way to judge a trip," he said. "It's how many deals will take place from here forward."

Harris said Ontario businesses are leaving China today more optimistic about future business partnerships.

"If I came here and I was told that we wouldn't sign one deal, I'd still come," he said.

By the time Team Canada hit Hong Kong Thursday, the business delegation had dwindled from its original 580 to 171.

Equally as present as the business cards, big lunches and schmoozing on this mission was the issue of China's terrible human rights record.

Chretien, met by only a handful of protesters in Hong Kong at two events, has faced a barrage of questions on the issue.

While Chretien has raised the human rights issue frequently, a leading Chinese labour activist complained Canadian business people haven't been living up to that message.

Instead, some have been demanding Chinese workers put in long hours without overtime, complained Han Dongfang, 37.

"Canadian business people's behaviour in our country should be improved . . . (to) respect labour law and workers' rights," he told reporters.

Earlier in the mission, Team Canada visited the Montreal Pavilion at Shanghai's Century Park where activists complain construction workers were forced last year to work long hours seven days a week and sleep in tents. The $5-million pavilion was built with tax dollars from Ottawa, Quebec and Montreal.

"That's not only Canadian business, that's involved with Canadian governments and that's absolutely

unacceptable," said Han, who spent two years in a Chinese prison for organizing workers at the time of Beijing's 1989 crackdown on protesters in Tiananmen Square.

Chretien, who returns to Canada today, said he expects Canadian business people to respect labour laws, but admitted that doesn't always happen.

"There might be some problems from day to day . . . when you deal in a country that big with 1.2 billion people, you know perhaps some laws are broken once in a while," he said.

"We have this situation in any country around the world."

But Chretien insisted his statements supporting those rights have made an impact, particularly since the Chinese government is anxious to make reforms needed to finally join the World Trade Organization this year.

Ordinary citizens of China, however, won't have heard Chretien's message because of media censorship, said Han.


 * E-mail Stephanie Rubec

by Stephanie Rubec, Parliamentary Bureau and News Services
The London Free Press
Londoner Keith Peiris, 12, president and chief executive of Cyberteks Design, is flanked by Ontario Premier Mike Harris and Prime Minister Jean Chretien as the Team Canada trade mission wrapped up its Far East trip in Hong Kong yesterday. — -- Fred Chartrand, CP


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