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Canada's Trudeau: U.S. NAFTA Withdrawal 'Will Turn the Clock Back'

Canada prime minister Justin Trudeau (right) with Time magazine's Nancy Gibbs at the 2017 Fortune Global Forum in Guangzhou, China. Stefen Chow/Fortune

Canada is open for business, Justin Trudeau says.

At the Fortune Global Forum in Guangzhou, China on Thursday, the Canadian prime minister emphasized openness and free trade as a mechanism to combat the rising tide of protectionism.

“The backlash against globalization happens because many people feel left behind,” Trudeau told Time magazine’s Nancy Gibbs. “Closing our doors will only hurt our businesses and our citizens.”

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Earlier this week, Trudeau met with Chinese President Xi Jinping to kick off free trade negotiations between the two countries. On Thursday, Trudeau explained why an agreement with China would be “a really big deal” for both countries. For Canada, it presents an opportunity to engage with the second largest economy in the world, he said. For China, it would create the country’s first trade deal with a G7 country. Trudeau’s progressive trade agenda includes agreements about labor and environmental ethics, gender equality and indigenous rights.

“A potential trade agreement would open new markets for businesses to grow and enable investment surge on both sides of the Pacific,” Trudeau told Gibbs before a room full of top executives.

The discussions come amid tough NAFTA negotiations with the U.S. after President Donald Trump threatened to withdraw from the pact.

“The current administration has perhaps different negotiating approaches than past administrations, but the issue comes down to, are we going to be helping or hurting our citizens?” Trudeau said. “I think canceling NAFTA will turn the clock back on really important measures that have benefited our citizens, and I have to believe that’s not going to happen.”

And what if the U.S. does withdraw? “We’re ready for anything,” he said.

In addition to trade talks with China and NAFTA re-negotiations with the U.S, Trudeau is also working on terms around the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Trudeau voiced objections with the deal and was accused of “screwing” and “sabotaging” a final agreement by being a no-show at a planned meeting. Trudeau defended his stance at the Fortune event.

“When we engage in trade talks, we remain focused on the benefit for ordinary citizens,” he said.

Trudeau’s Chinese tour demonstrates his broad attempts diversify Canada’s trade relationships. Though no formal agreements were announced during his four-day visit with Chinese government officials and business leaders, Trudeau characterized the talks as “positive and productive.”

“Both sides know this is something that has far-reaching and long-lasting repercussions and implications,” Trudeau said. “There were never any illusions that this would be quick or easy.”

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