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The Hindu
The Hindu
Kallol Bhattacherjee

Canada, India trade talks paused, says Piyush Goyal days after Trudeau visit for G20 summit

Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal on Saturday confirmed that the ongoing trade negotiation with Canada has frozen due to disagreements on “certain issues”. Mr. Goyal’s remarks came soon after Canada cancelled a trade mission to India that was to arrive in Mumbai in October.

“We have given the trade dialogue with Canada a pause. We need to make sure that geopolitically and economically we are on the same page…we have had certain issues which are of serious concern and have been highlighted in the bilateral meeting [between PM Modi and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau],” said Mr. Goyal in an interview with media outlet First Post.

The confirmation on stalling the discussion came in the backdrop of a series of negative developments that included growing sympathy for Khalistani activists among lawmakers in Canada.

Earlier this month, Indian High Commissioner to Canada Sanjay Kumar Verma had indicated that the talks had stalled.

“The Canadian side has requested that, let’s take a pause and then we’ll restart. There is an honest request from the Canadian side, and we have no reason not to accept it,” Mr. Verma told The Canadian Press on September 1.

This was followed by remarks by Canadian officials who accompanied Prime Minister Trudeau to the G20 summit here during which they said that India had strongly objected to certain political developments within Canada.

India and Canada have held six rounds of trade talks for Early Progress Trade Agreement (EPTA) so far and the sixth round of the discussion was held in Ottawa in the first week of May between Mr. Goyal and Mary Ng, Canada’s Minister of International Trade, Export Promotion, Small Business and Economic Development.

But a month later, during the anniversary of June 5, 1984, Operation Blue Star, a float taken out in Brampton showcased the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi which drew strong condemnation from the Government of India.

Explaining India’s anguish on the float, External Affairs Minister Dr. S Jaishankar said, “Frankly, we are at a loss to understand, other than the requirements of vote bank politics, why anybody would do this. I think there is a larger underlying issue about the space which is given to separatists, to extremists, to people who advocate violence. I think it is not good for relationships and not good for Canada.”

Diplomatic ties were also hit when the Khalistan sympathisers targeted Indian diplomats in Canada and put out posters carrying threats against Indian envoys in multiple countries like Canada, UK, Australia and the US.

India’s criticism has been focused on the space that Canadian government has given to pro-Khalistan groups in the country but Ottawa has argued that Canada protects freedom of expression of political opinion as long as they do not lead to violence. The deadlock became most apparent when earlier this week Ms. Ng cancelled a trade mission to India, the first under Canada’s Indo-Pacific strategy. The mission was expected to focus on agriculture, food, digital technology, infrastructure and life sciences.

“At this time, we are postponing the upcoming trade mission to India,” Ms. Ng’s spokesperson Shanti Cosentino stated to The Canadian Press.

The Canadian mission was scheduled to visit Mumbai on October 9 with Canadian business teams to network with the business houses of India during a five-day trip which is known as “Team Canada” trade mission.

The negative sentiments were reflected also during PM Trudeau’s visit to Delhi last week when there were delays in confirming a bilateral meeting between Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Modi. The two did meet finally though not in a detailed bilateral format.

PM Modi, however, said in a social media message that “full range” of India-Canada relationship indicating that concerns about security issues were taken up during the talk. India has concluded an Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement (ECTA) with Australia and an Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agree (CEPA) with the UAE.

Similar dialogues are currently underway with multiple countries and regions like the Gulf Cooperation Council, Israel, European Union and Bangladesh. The discussion with Canada is part of the post-COVID economic diplomacy of India in which bilateral trade agreements have emerged as an important tool.

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