Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe’s government has accused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of jeopardizing Canada’s relations with India and failing to keep the provinces informed about ongoing trade talks.
In a letter released by Saskatchewan Trade Minister Jeremy Harrison, Trudeau was criticized for allegedly prioritizing domestic political interests over the national economic interest, particularly with respect to western Canadian exports to India.
The controversy arose when Indian High Commissioner Sanjay Kumar Verma revealed that Ottawa had requested a pause in ongoing talks for an Early Progress Trade Agreement (EPTA) within the last month.
This news shocked business leaders, as well as former premier Brad Wall, as provinces like Saskatchewan had received no updates on the negotiations since late July. Harrison’s letter, dated September 8, expressed the province’s frustration at hearing about the pause through the media and receiving no explanation from the Government of Canada.
Harrison contended that provinces and territories should be involved in the negotiations, as has been the practice in past trade deals. He also claimed that Trade Minister Mary Ng had not responded to a late July letter requesting an update on the negotiations.
Saskatchewan plays a significant role in Canada’s exports to India, contributing about a third of total exports from Canada, over $1 billion per year, primarily in commodities like lentils.
Trade Minister Mary Ng is set to lead a trade mission to India in the coming month with Canadian businesses. The reasons for the pause in trade talks remain unclear, and Ng’s office stated that she would provide a statement in response to Harrison’s letter.
Prime Minister Trudeau briefly met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi, where Modi expressed concerns about “anti-India activities of extremist elements in Canada,” specifically referring to Sikh separatists advocating for a state called Khalistan.
Trudeau emphasized that Canadians, regardless of origin, have the right to free speech, but expressed concerns about foreign interference.
Tensions between Canada and India have been escalating over various incidents, including provocative posters targeting Indian diplomats in Canada. Human Rights Watch has accused the Modi government of regressing on human rights and constitutional protections.
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