Canada hits pause on trade mission to India after tensions at G20 summit

A spokesperson for Canadian Trade Minister Mary Ng confirmed the October trip was on hold amid frosty relations.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi welcomes Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau upon his arrival at Bharat Mandapam convention center for the G20 Summit, in New Delhi, India, Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, right, pulled his Canadian counterpart Justin Trudeau aside during the G20 summit on Sunday to discuss what he considered ‘anti-India activities’ [Evan Vucci/Pool via Reuters]

Canada has announced it would postpone an October trade mission to India, in the midst of strained relations between the two countries.

A spokesperson for Canadian Trade Minister Mary Ng confirmed the change on Friday, though no reason was offered for the delay.

“At this time, we are postponing the upcoming trade mission to India,” the spokesperson, Shanti Cosentino, said.

Earlier in the day, anonymous Indian officials also told reporters that negotiations over a trade deal were on hold, due to objections over “political developments in Canada”.

In May, Ng and her Indian counterpart, Piyush Goyal, had issued a joint statement saying they hoped to boost trade and investment between their two countries by the year’s end.

But those talks have hit several high-level snags. Most recently, during last weekend’s Group of 20 (G20) summit in New Delhi, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi chose not to hold a formal bilateral meeting with Canadian leader Justin Trudeau, a decision many perceived to be a snub.

Modi also pulled Trudeau aside to criticise Canada’s handling of recent Sikh protests.

Videos circulated in June showing a controversial parade float in Brampton, Ontario, that was themed after the assassination of Indira Gandhi. The former Indian prime minister had been killed by her Sikh bodyguards in 1984 after she ordered military action against Sikh separatists at the Golden Temple in the state of Punjab.

The parade float sparked furore in the Indian government, which called the display a celebration of separatist violence.

On Sunday, in a press release after Modi’s encounter with Trudeau, the Indian government reiterated its “strong concerns about continuing anti-India activities” in Canada.

“Extremist elements” in the country, the press release said, were “inciting violence against Indian diplomats, damaging diplomatic premises, and threatening the Indian community in Canada”.

However, since his election in 2014, Modi has been accused of overseeing a rising tide of conservative Hindu nationalism in India, while minority groups in the country raise concerns about threats to their human rights.

The Hon. Mary Ng, Canada's Minister of International Trade, Export Promotion, Small Business and Economic Development, giving a toast during the opening Reception of THE CANADA-IN-ASIA CONFERENCE 2023 on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2023, in Singapore.
Canadian Trade Minister Mary Ng had been scheduled to lead a trade mission to India in October [File: Pandora Wong/Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada via Ap Photo]

Canada, meanwhile, has the largest Sikh population outside of Punjab. Among them are separatists who hope to create an independent Sikh state called Khalistan in northern India.

For his part, Trudeau has defended Canadians’ right to “freedom of expression, freedom of conscience and freedom of peaceful protest”, though he did say he would “push back” against “hatred”.

He also dismissed the scale of the protests. “It is important to remember that the actions of the few do not represent the entire community or Canada,” he said.

But the controversy has cast a pall over Indian-Canadian relations. On September 1, in a surprise move, Canada said it would pause the trade treaty talks — something Indian officials echoed in their statements to the press on Friday.

The trade negotiations between the two countries have been happening on and off since 2010.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies