The row comes at a bad time. Donald Trump bludgeoned Canada (and Mexico) into renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement. The new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement was signed in November. Mr Trump has yet to lift heavy tariffs on Canadian (and other countries’) aluminium and steel. Justin Trudeau, Canada’s prime minister, had hoped to reduce the country’s dependence on the United States, which buys three-quarters of Canadian goods exports and supplies half of Canada’s imports. China had looked the most promising alternative partner. The Huawei dust-up has put that relationship in jeopardy. Talks about a possible free-trade agreement, which began in 2016, face “new obstacles”, said Lu Shaye, China’s ambassador in Ottawa, on December 14th.
Seeking to cool China’s ire, Canada points out that Ms Meng’s arrest was not political. An independent court issued the order (and released her on bail of C$10m, or $7.5m). But Mr Trump undermined that argument by saying he would intervene if that would help secure a good trade deal with China. Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s foreign minister, begged Mr Trump not to politicise the extradition process.
More perils lie ahead. One is a final decision on whether to extradite Ms Meng, which will be made by the attorney-general, a member of Mr Trudeau’s cabinet (and thus a politician). That will come after the United States files a formal extradition request. Canada’s government has been debating whether to ban the use of equipment from Huawei to build Canada’s 5G networks, as the United States, Australia and New Zealand have already done. That would provoke China even more. Canadian executives in China now fear joining Mr Kovrig and Mr Spavor in detention.
In happier times the two governments designated 2018 the year of tourism; Canada had hoped to double the number of Chinese visitors to 1.2m by 2021. Its tourism minister cancelled a trip to China for the closing ceremony. If the spat continues, it will not just disrupt holidays.