It was supposed to be a vacation. But Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s recent trip to India has turned into a disaster for Canadians.
First, U.S. President Donald Trump announced he was levelling tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum. And then, almost at the same time, Trudeau’s “buddies” in India announced a 60 per cent tariff on chick peas – up from 40 per cent.
Maybe Trudeau’s dancing around in funny costumes in India didn’t work out exactly as he planned after all.
Conservative MP Candice Bergen led off Question Period Friday by citing India’s higher tariffs as proof that Trudeau’s troubled trip overseas and the ensuing controversy have resulted in a breakdown in relations.
“Last night India raised the duty on chickpeas to 60 per cent — a clear signal that India is understandably upset and Canadian chickpea producers are the first to pay the price,” Bergen said.
But will that be the end of it?
Almost at the same time as this India attack, Trudeau was forced to face another problem from one of his “buddies” – Trump. Last October, Trudeau met Trump at the White House. Amid smiles and handshakes, Trump again threatened to rip up the North American Free Trade Deal if he and the Americans didn’t get what they want.
“If we can’t make a deal, it’ll be terminated, and that’ll be fine,” Trump said after the brief meeting between the two leaders.
And then Thursday, Trump announced he was levelling tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum.
Being the polite, not so forceful, guy Trudeau is, he simply called the U.S. tariffs “unacceptable.”
“It just makes no sense to highlight that Canada and Canadian steel or aluminum might be a security threat to the United States,” Trudeau said during an event in Barrie, Ont. Friday.
”That’s why this is absolutely unacceptable and it’s a point we’ve made many times, that I’ve made directly with the president. It’s one that we’re going continue to engage with all levels of the U.S. administration on.”
So what do Trudeau, his Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland or any of his other cabinet ministers, really plan to do about all this? Just the other day, Freeland said Canada will retaliate if the U.S. persists in its tactics.
“Should restrictions be imposed on Canadian steel and aluminum products, Canada will take responsive measures to defend its trade interests and workers,” Freeland said in a statement, calling any trade restrictions “absolutely unacceptable.”
She did not give details, and Canadian officials were not immediately available for comment on what measures she might have in mind.
Makes you kind of wonder whether Canada will respond with angry words or concrete action.
So far, all Canada’s leaders have done is use words.
With the war of words now launched on two fronts – India and the U.S. –
Trudeau is being backed into a corner he may not want to visit. Trudeau said the chick pea tariff increase doesn’t specifically target Canada, and that he had productive discussions with India’s President Narendra Modi on increasing the predictability of future tariffs as well as on pest treatment issues with shipments to India.
“Last week I had excellent conversations with Prime Minister Modi about science-based approaches to fumigation issues that were related to our pulses here, where we agreed to settle the science and bring forth science-based solutions within the next year, and bring about better predictability on what tariff barriers could be.”
The latest increase in chickpea tariffs comes after India imposed a 50 per cent tariff on chick pea imports last November and a 30 per cent tariff on chickpeas and lentils in December that were then raised to 40 per cent in February.
The increases are part of the Indian government’s push to boost domestic production of the crops, and protect farmers from cheaper international production, said Pulse Canada CEO Gordon Bacon.
“They’ve made it clear they want to become self-sufficient for pulse production.”
Bacon said Canadian chickpea exports to India have averaged around $5 million over the past five years, compared with more than $500 million for both peas and lentils, making chickpeas an odd choice if India were truly trying to punish Canada.
So here we have U.S. President Trump taking action to protect the American steel and aluminum industry, Indian President Modi taking action to protect India’s chick pea industry and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau just talking about what he might do.
Maybe, just maybe, it’s time for Trudeau to stop talking and start taking some concrete action to protect Canadian industries and the jobs they create in this country.
Jeff Wilkinson is a Senior Politics Reporter at Debate Report covering provincial and national politics, . Before joining Debate Report, Jeff worked on several provincial campaigns including Jack Layton. Jeff has worked as a freelance journalist in Toronto, having been published by over 20 outlets including CBC, the Center for Media and VICE.com.