Days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi slammed rising secessionist activities and Khailstan supporters attacking Indian diplomatic missions on their country, Canada has said it is postponing a trade mission to India scheduled for October. The two countries had said earlier this year that they wanted to conclude their own first trade deal this year. However, negotiations on a bilateral free trade agreement have now reportedly reached a standstill.
The trade mission was linked to Canada’s Indo-Pacific strategy and India was described as an “ideal destination” for a Team Canada trade mission. “Canada and India have a mutual interest in expanding our commercial relationships and strengthening people-to-people connections,” Canada had said.
Relations between India and Canada, which has the world’s second largest Sikh population after India, have been tense due to increasing Khalistani activities. Following a meeting between Prime Minister Modi and Mr Trudeau on the sidelines of the G20, India issued a strongly worded statement expressing “strong concerns” over the continued “anti-India activities” of extremist elements in Canada.
The Foreign Office said Prime Minister Modi made it clear during the meeting that extremist elements are “promoting separatism and incitement to violence” against Indian diplomats, damaging diplomatic buildings and threatening the Indian community in Canada and their places of worship.
It added: “The nexus of such forces with organized crime, drug syndicates and human trafficking should also be of concern to Canada. It is essential for the two countries to work together in tackling such threats.”
When asked whether Khlistani activities and “foreign interference” were discussed during the meeting, Justin Trudeau told reporters that Canada will always defend freedom of expression, freedom of conscience and freedom of peaceful protest, “and it is extremely important for us’.
“At the same time, we are always there to prevent violence and reduce hatred,” he had said, adding that it is important to remember that the actions of a few do not represent the entire community or Canada.
India had made a demarche to the Canadian government last year, asking it to halt the so-called Khalistan referendum organized by a banned organization in Ontario. The Center asked the Canadian government to take action against those who promote terror and violence against the world’s largest democracy.
The banned organization Sikhs for Justice, led by designated terrorist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, held the Khalistan referendum this week, on September 10, at a gurdwara in British Columbia, Canada.
Ahead of the G20 summit in Delhi, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government had requested a “pause” in trade talks with India last month, Bloomberg reported, although no reason was given.
India and Canada had first started negotiating a trade deal thirteen years ago, in 2010. After a lull of almost five years, talks resumed in 2022 with renegotiations on a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement.
So far, more than half a dozen talks have taken place between the countries about the trade pact. In March 2022, the two countries restarted negotiations on an interim agreement: Early Progress Trade Agreement (EPTA). In such agreements, two countries significantly reduce or eliminate import duties on the maximum number of goods traded between them. Standards are also being liberalized to promote trade in services and thus attract investment.