International Trade Minister Mary Ng says Canada’s “focus” is investigating the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar while trade talks with India remain on ice.
Ng told reporters at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders’ summit in San Francisco on Wednesday that she’s reassured Canadians doing business in India will continue to have Ottawa’s support.
“Right now, the focus for Canada is to let the work of the investigation proceed. That’s really important because you’ve heard me and the government talk about how important it is that that investigation happens, given that we had a Canadian killed on Canadian soil,” she said.
“Canadian businesses … are continuing to do business in India and my job as the trade minister is to make sure that the supports and the tools that are there to support Canadian businesses and investors in India continue to be available to them, so that’s what we’re doing for now.”
Canada’s relations with India have soured in the wake of a public allegation by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Sept. 18 that Ottawa had “credible evidence” that agents of the Indian government may have been involved in Nijjar’s death.
The Canadian-Sikh advocate was gunned down outside his gurdwara in Surrey, B.C., in June.
India sharply rejected the allegations, which led to a spat between the two countries including diplomatic expulsions and Ottawa being forced to reduce its diplomatic footprint in the country.
India also suspended visa services in Canada and for Canadian citizens worldwide, only to reinstate them later.
Trade relations with India were already challenged before the allegation publicly surfaced.
On Sept. 1, Indian High Commissioner Sanjay Kumar Verma said Ottawa had sought a pause “within the last month” to ongoing preliminary talks for a trade agreement.
The two countries have since March 2022 been negotiating a deal that would be restricted to certain industries, instead of spanning the entire economy.
The talks followed a five-year hiatus. The countries had entered negotiations in 2010 for a comprehensive deal, but they abandoned the plans in 2017.
Then on Sept. 15, Ng’s office said a planned “Team Canada” trip to India was being put off, giving no details about when it would go ahead.
Ng was scheduled to lead a five-day “Team Canada” trade mission to Mumbai with leaders from Canadian businesses and provinces, leaving on Oct. 9.
The trade mission, the first in Asia under Canada’s Indo-Pacific strategy, was focused on boosting Canadian clean-technology companies as a way to help meet India’s need for renewable energy.
The Trade Commissioner Service said the trip would also have sought to increase trade in sectors such as automotive, agriculture and value-added food, digital technology, infrastructure and life sciences.
It would also have involved networking with Indian business leaders, briefings from senior officials, and key industry players and roundtables with locals.
A description of the trip posted on the Trade Commissioner Service website noted that India was the fastest-growing major economy in 2022.
Ng on Wednesday denied any link between the tensions and the trade talks resuming.
“What I said was that our focus is, of course, on this investigation — that work has to take place,” she said.
“And for Canadian businesses, what I’ve said to them, just to reassure them, because they expect that of their governments … as they continue to do business and to invest and to make investments or to attract investment, that the services of the Canadian government continue to be there for them.”