Trudeau Mum on Reasons for Stalled Trade Talks With India

Trudeau Mum on Reasons for Stalled Trade Talks With India
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives for a cabinet swearing-in ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on July 26, 2023. (The Canadian Press/Justin Tang)
Matthew Horwood

Amid strained relations with India, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would not answer questions on why he has not secured a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his upcoming trip to the G20 summit in New Delhi, India, or why trade talks with the country had stalled.

“The G20 is a really important moment for us to have conversations about what’s going on in the world right now,” Mr. Trudeau said during a press conference in Singapore on Sept. 7, where he was promoting Canadian trade and businesses.

“Whether its climate, whether its challenges around the war in Ukraine, or whether it’s the rule of law, we need to make sure that we’re having frank and important conversations with all our partners there,” he said, adding the schedule of planned events was “still being worked on.”

“But you can know that we will have really important conversations when we’re there,” he said.

A week before Trudeau arrived in Singapore, Canada unexpectedly announced it had paused talks on a proposed trade deal with India just three months after the two countries said they aimed to seal an initial agreement by the end of 2023.

The announcement came amid heightened tensions with India over protests during the summer that targeted India’s diplomatic interests. New Delhi took issue with a demonstration following the killing of a Sikh leader in British Columbia, which included posters that advocated for the destruction of India.

Ahead of Mr. Trudeau’s trip to India, a government official told reporters that “trade negotiations are long, complex processes. And we’ve paused to take stock of where we are,” according to Reuters. The unidentified official declined to give more details on why the talks had been paused.
Trade Minister Mary Ng also did not provide an explanation for the pause in talks when speaking to reporters on Sept. 5.

“Trade agreements are complex and there are many things that go into that. All we’re doing at this point is taking a reflection, to take stock of where we are,” she said.

When Mr. Trudeau was pressed by reporters again on why trade talks were paused—and why he refused to say more—he referred to Ms. Ng’s previous answer.

“We know as a country that has successfully negotiated free trade deals with all of our G7 partners, and with two-thirds of the global economy, we have a lot of experience in negotiating trade deals,” he said.

“We know that it’s a long process and the minister can speak more to it.”

Negotiations on a free trade agreement between the two countries were first launched in 2010, but the plans were abandoned in 2017. Since 2022, Canada and India have been negotiating a different trade agreement—a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement—that would be restricted to certain industries.

Murder Of Sikh Leader

New Delhi has long protested over what it says is Ottawa’s lax approach towards Sikh separatists living in Canada. This issue further strained ties over the summer, with Indian media reporting that Canada’s High Commissioner was summoned to India’s Ministry of External Affairs for a diplomatic demarche.
New Delhi was reacting to the promotional material for a protest against India after the killing of a Sikh leader in British Columbia. One of the posters for a rally in Toronto read “Kill India” and said two Indian diplomats in the country were the “faces” of the “killers” of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, who advocated for a Sikh state independent of India.
“Canada takes its obligations under the Vienna Conventions regarding the safety of diplomats very seriously,” Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said at the time. “Canada remains in close contact with Indian officials in light of some of the promotional material circulating online regarding a protest planned for July 8th, which are unacceptable.”
Back in September 2022, the Indian government also warned of a rise in “hate crimes, sectarian violence and anti-India activities” in Canada, and warned Indian nationals in the country to be on the alert. A news release from the Indian Ministry of External Affairs said it had brought several incidents to the attention of Canadian authorities, and that the alleged perpetrators have not been brought to justice.