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Surrey Board of Trade ‘disappointed’ with pause of Canada-India trade negotiations

Ottawa announced that talks on an early progress trade agreement have been paused indefinitely
Anita Huberman, president and CEO of the Surrey Board of Trade, was photographed with India's Trade Minister Piyush Goyal (left) and Perrin Beatty, president and CEO of Canadian Chamber of Commerce, at the B20 summit in Delhi, India last month

The Surrey Board of Trade said it is “surprised” and “disappointed” with Ottawa’s decision to pause ongoing talks about an Early Progress Trade Agreement (EPTA) with India.

The Surrey Board of Trade has advocated for a free-trade deal between Canada and India for years. Last month, president and CEO Anita Huberman joined a Canadian Chamber of Commerce delegation to attend the G20/B20 summit in Delhi to advance the trade deal conversation.

“What I've learned over the weekend is there has been a pause by the Canadian government and the only reason is that the negotiations have gone quickly,” Huberman told BIV, adding that 10 negotiations have taken place in the past 13 months on the EPTA.

“I am disappointed; the Surrey Board of Trade is disappointed. We have a significant Indian diaspora here in Surrey with 30 per cent of our population being South Asian origin, and it was an opportunity for us to really leverage the expertise of that diaspora to build global ties.”

Canada and India launched negotiations for a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) back in 2010, before abandoning the process in 2017. The two countries formally resumed trade talks last year on an EPTA – an agreement to bring both parties one step closer to a much-awaited CEPA.

The Canadian government said it hopes the pause will provide additional opportunities for consultation and will help ensure all industries that might engage in trade with India are considered as part of the process.

Huberman said she understands the decision but hopes the pause will not take too long.

“There is a significant opportunity between doing business for Canadian businesses – including small and medium-sized businesses – and India. That was the No. 1 message that I've heard when I was in Delhi for the B20,” she said.

“There's just so much innovation productivity happening in India … and they are on track to be the world’s largest developed democracy by 2060. So, free trade agreements are an absolute necessity in terms of focus right now to ensure that we leverage the opportunity.”

Huberman met with many Indian officials and businesspeople in Delhi last month who, according to her, were “positive but cautious” about finalizing a trade deal with Canada.

“I think tension still exist between the Canadian government and the Indian government to a certain extent … and I know that [both countries] are working together on expediting whatever that trade agreement is going to look like, but both countries want it done right.”

It‘s unclear when EPTA negotiations will resume.

“The elections are taking place in India [next spring] and once the attention by the population of India and the government of India's on the election, it's going to take a little bit of time until negotiations restart. So, we're hoping as much as possible can be done before the end of this year,” said Huberman.

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