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B.C.-India business trips delayed amid ongoing national diplomatic dispute

B.C. business leaders say trade activity continues but India’s suspension of visa-processing services for Canadians has frustrated in-person relationship building
B.C.-to-India exports also hit a record $1.5 billion last year, making India the sixth-largest export destination for the province | Oleksii Liskonih/iStock/Getty Images Plus

B.C. businesses say they are closely monitoring the situation between Canada and India amid ongoing tensions.

The bilateral relationship hit a new low after Prime Minister Trudeau accused India of assassinating Canadian Sikh Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Surrey last week. India responded by suspending visa-processing services in Canada.

Businesses say they are continuing their trade activity with India, but some business trips have been postponed.

“We are very optimistic, hoping that things will be okay,” said Vivek Savkur, founder and president of India Business Network (BC-IBN).

“At the end, it has to work out because both India and Canada are intertwined with each other in business, commerce, economics, as well as culture. I cannot see any separation there.”

BC-IBN members are waiting and watching but haven’t cut down or stopped their trade activities with India, according to Savkur. The organization is also moving forward with its biggest event of the year, The Grand Diwali Gala in October.

However, political tension and uncertainty have resulted in the postponement of planned business visits between B.C. and India, according to Anita Huberman, CEO and president of Surrey Board of Trade.

“It’s certainly unfortunate,” said Huberman, who attended B20/G20 in New Delhi to advance the conversation on an Early Progress Trade Agreement (EPTA), which was put on hold infinitely by the Canadian government during the summit.

“Certainly with recent political visits that have happened for the G20, we see an escalating situation where many of our businesses have had to postpone plans to visit India and vice versa as well.”

A delegation from India the SBOT was expecting to receive in mid-October has postponed their trip, she said.

“Building those business connections for our local businesses within India have, hopefully temporarily, stalled. But we remain still steadfast in the importance of still gauging and doing business with India despite the politics or the situation at play.”

Huberman said she hopes the situation doesn’t further escalate and have a long-term impact on trade with India in the future.

“If we want to ship goods to India, or if India wants to ship goods to Canada, are there going to be tariffs or additional taxes? What about the partnerships we've already made on the ground in India to leverage opportunities for local businesses? How is that going to be impacted? All of those questions were asked and we're watching this day by day,” said Huberman.

Savkur said he is confident that the governments of both countries will not let the relationship “hit a dead end” for trade and investment reasons.

“So much of pension funds are invested into India, and so much of other investments have come from India to B.C. and Canada. Nobody will take a chance by losing out on all these investments,” he said.

Canadian pension funds had invested over $45 billion in India in 2022, making it the fourth-largest recipient of Canadian foreign direct investments in the world, according to think tank GTRI.

B.C.-to-India exports also hit a record $1.5 billion last year, making India the sixth-largest export destination for the province.

“It is just a few hiccups going on and stability will be achieved by both Canada and India, and common allies like USA, the U.K. and Australia. The whole issue I don't think will escalate any further – it’s in the interests of both,” said Savkur.

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