Underlying the trip is the fact that Canada's trade prospects took a hit following U.S. President Donald Trump's threat in August to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement. And as uncertainty shrouds the future of NAFTA — which ties together the U.S., Canada and Mexico — Trudeau has an "urgent" need to diversify his country's trade relationships, according to Jeremy Kinsman, a former ambassador of the country and a distinguished visiting diplomat at Ryerson University.
But any attempt to pivot to China, Canada's third-largest trading partner after the U.S. and the European Union, appears fraught with difficulty.
Trudeau has set forth a so-called progressive trade agenda calling for agreements about labor and environmental ethics, gender equality and indigenous rights. But those are issues Chinese President Xi Jinping will be reluctant to discuss, according to Charles Burton, professor of political science at Brock University.
"It's very unlikely that the Chinese government will be prepared to set a precedent in linking non-economic factors" to a Beijing-Ottawa trade agreement, Burton said.
Concerns over human rights could become a key sticking point as Beijing continues to hold two Canadians wine merchants over an alleged customs breach, in a case that has sparked public outcry in the North American country, Kinsman said.