On Paused Trade Talks, Canada Minister Says "Focus" On Hardeep Nijjar Case

"Right now, the focus for Canada is to let the work of the investigation proceed..." Canadian Trade Minister Mary Ng said during the APEC summit in the United States.

On Paused Trade Talks, Canada Minister Says 'Focus' On Hardeep Nijjar Case

India-Canada trade talks - suspended since September - may remain on ice while Canada is "focused" on investigating "credible allegations" linking Indian agents to the killing of Khalistani terrorist and Canadian citizen Hardeep Singh Nijjar, that country's Trade Minister Mary Ng suggested Wednesday.

Ms Ng would not confirm a direct link between the "paused" trade talks and the Nijjar killing.

"You have heard me the government talk about how important it is... that the investigation happens, given we had a Canadian killed on Canadian soil... So we'll let that happen," she told reporters on the side-lines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in San Francisco in the United States.

The minister also offered reassurances to Canadian businesses operating in India.

"Right now, the focus for Canada is to let the work of the investigation proceed. My job as Trade Minister is to make sure that support and tools there to support Canadian businesses and investors in India continue to be available to them. So that's what we are doing for now," she said.

Ms Ng may have been more circumspect in her comments but Canada's ambassador to Japan, Ian McKay was more direct. "I think it's wise to pause (trade talks) at the moment while we deal with this issue (the Nijjar killing)," Mr McKay was quoted by Canada's Global News.

The Indian government has not responded so far to either Ms Ng or Mr McKay's statements.

Canada had requested the "pause" in trade talks on September 2 - shortly before Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's claim that agents of the Indian government were linked to Nijjar's death.

READ | Canada Pauses Trade Talks With India Ahead Of G-20 Summit

This was also before Mr Trudeau's incident-filled visit to India for the G20 Summit, at which Prime Minister Narendra Modi and he had a tense discussion on Khalistani attacks on Indian missions. India later expressed "strong concerns" about "anti-India activities" by extremist elements in Canada.

The two nations have been in talks over a trade deal since March last year.

The breakdown is a setback to India's effort to position itself as a supply-chain alternative to China, even though it isn't among Canada's top 20 trading partners.

India had a $2.87 billion trade surplus with Canada in 2022.

READ | India-Canada Trade Talk Paused: Why Relations Between The Two Have Soured

In May, India's Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal visited Ottawa and both sides were optimistic of a positive outcome. Ms Ng had said the countries were close to signing an early-progress document.

Nijjar, 45, was shot dead outside a gurdwara in Canada's Vancouver in June, and his death has significantly soured relations between the two countries.

India has rubbished the "absurd" and "motivated" allegations, and told Ottawa "this is not the Government of India's policy". "We told them, 'Look, if you have something specific... relevant, let us know. We are open to looking at it'," External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar had said then. 

READ | S Jaishankar Asks Canada To Give Evidence In Hardeep Nijjar Killing Case

The United States and the United Kingdom are among those putting pressure on India to co-operate with Canada. Last week Mr Trudeau stressed he does not want a "fight" with India but reiterated his claims and said called for Ottawa and New Delhi to "work constructively" on this "very serious matter".

Mr Jaishankar responded last week. He said that while India is not ruling out an investigation into the Canadian allegations, Ottawa needed to provide evidence to back its claim. "If you have reason to make such an allegation, please share evidence because we are not ruling out an investigation..."

With input from agencies

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