Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Thursday that any trade talks with China would have take into consideration the role of state-owned enterprises.
He noted the prime minister had been having busy and productive meetings in Beijing.
As at midday on Thursday, it appeared that Mr Trudeau would be leaving China without a breakthrough.
The prime minister, who was in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou to wrap up a five-day visit, said the 23-year-old Nafta "needs to be updated" and warned that cancelling the pact would harm Canadians.
The scramble came immediately after Canadian leaders sat down with Chinese President Xi Jinping for a private dinner in the country's capital Tuesday night.
Trudeau said differences need to be addressed on how Canada deals with China's state-owned enterprises.
"Canada is not in the business of trying to create a zero sum game or create winners or losers in trade deals".
China and Canada abandon launch of trade agreement talks
Speaking in response to a question at the Fortune Global Forum in China, Trudeau said Beijing's involvement in strategic industries was "characteristic of their approach".
Trudeau said he would not hesitate to raise human rights concerns with Xi, who has become China's most powerful leader in decades.
"There was good progress made and we expect that work to continue in the weeks ahead", said his spokesman Joe Pickerill.
He said he's raised specific consular cases, and the inability of Canadian diplomats to visit some Canadians in prison. Trudeau's first visit to China was in the late summer of 2016.
That may be why International Trade Minister François-Philippe Champagne told The House last week that: "This is the moment for us to consider all the options we have".
While the Canadian government's plane was readying to take off from Beijing's airport, at least two of Champagne's aides sprung from their seats, grabbed their luggage and darted off the aircraft.
Canada and the U.S. had a bilateral trade deal that was superseded and suspended by Nafta.
Trudeau touted the lower-level agreements the two countries inked Monday on energy and the environment, agriculture and education as ways of incrementally moving relations forward as part of his new annual leaders' dialogue.
"We are constantly engaged with our Chinese counterparts to ensure there are opportunities for our citizens".
A push to launch free trade negotiations between China and Canada fell flat Monday, with the nations abruptly scrapping a planned press conference and agreeing instead to extend exploratory talks, Bloomberg reports.
"We are keen to see whether anything can come out of it today and on this mission (to China), but if not, we would really encourage the government of Canada to stay at the table and continue", he said.
After the shooting, the minister of foreign Affairs asked by chrystia Freeland had indicated that they had taken steps to accommodate its counterparts in a dozen countries, including, if possible, China, to discuss the file.
Masswohl said opening new markets for Canadian beef in China is crucial.
"We are a country of complacency, without pressure to compete with others; we tend to think we have all the high moral grounds on gender, environment, labour while others are inferior to us".
The government wants to establish a framework with China that would broaden the talks to include the environment, governance, labour and gender issues before deciding to formally begin trade negotiations.
"I know how important predictability and smooth understanding of the context in which we are, is important for business decisions".
The prime minister met with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in Beijing Monday but the two did not announce the start of formal free trade talks.
"The minister was active in trade negotiations all morning so we weren't able to meet with him", said Preston Swafford, the president of the CANDU division of SNC-Lavalin, which is looking to expand operations in China.
"They're still working. The term is: the cake is not baked yet".