OTTAWA - The official Opposition is pointing to India's decision to raise tariffs on chickpeas as the latest evidence that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's recent trip to that country ended up doing more harm than good.
Conservative MP Candice Bergen led off question period Friday by citing India's higher tariffs — now 60 per cent, up from 40 — as proof that Trudeau's troubled trip overseas and the ensuing controversy have resulted 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.
Trudeau has been embroiled in controversy since news broke that Jaspal Atwal — a B.C. Sikh convicted of trying to kill an Indian cabinet minister in 1986 — was included on the guest list for a pair of high-level receptions in India, and even attended one where he was photographed with Trudeau's wife.
A media briefing during the trip by national security adviser Daniel Jean suggested Atwal's presence during Trudeau's trip was arranged by factions within the Indian government who want to prevent Prime Minister Narendra Modi from getting too cosy with a foreign government they believe is not committed to a united India.
India provides significant growth potential for trade with Canada, said Bergen, but the governing Liberals are threatening those relations by suggesting India itself helped to orchestrate what turned out to be an embarrassing gaffe.
"When the prime minister is blaming India for causing problems with his trip, the prime minister is damaging all of the work that everybody in this place is trying to do for Canadians," Bergen said. "His conspiracy theory against India is causing a breakdown in our relationship."
Trudeau, speaking in Barrie, Ont., said the tariff increase doesn't specifically target Canada, and that he had productive discussions with 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 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."
He 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.
"If it is punishment, it is a small metering out of punishment relative to what could have happened if they would have applied it to lentils."
India's tariffs on peas are already at the maximum allowed by trade agreements, but the country could raise chickpea and lentil tariffs to 100 per cent, he added.