Justin Trudeau says India's recent tariff hike on chickpeas was a domestic decision, rebuffing allegations from opposition parties that the move is another sign of a breakdown in bilateral relations after the Prime Minister's turbulent trip to the country last week.
India raised tariffs on chickpeas to 60 per cent from 40 per cent on Thursday – the latest in a series of duties on pulses. Mr. Trudeau said the new tariffs are in response to a chickpea supply issue in India and are not meant to target Canada alone.
"The new tariffs, which are a domestic proposal by India in regards to their own domestic supply, are on chickpeas. And they … actually hit Australia in that particular type of chickpea as much, if not more, than Canada," Mr. Trudeau told reporters Friday in Barrie, Ont.
Pulse Canada said it received word from Agriculture Canada on Friday that Kabuli chickpeas – which represent 95 per cent of chickpeas grown in Canada – will be exempt from the Indian tariff increase, meaning very few Canadian exports will be affected by the new duty.
However, the opposition in Ottawa are convinced that India's most recent tariff hike is in retaliation to the Canadian government's assertion that rogue elements in the Indian government tried to sabotage Mr. Trudeau's recent trip to India.
"India raised the duty on Canadian chickpeas to 60 per cent, a clear signal that India is understandably upset, and Canadian chickpea producers are the first to pay the price. The Prime Minister has damaged our relationship with India," said Conservative House Leader Candice Bergen during Question Period Friday.
The Prime Minister's trip to India made international headlines after Jaspal Atwal – a former Sikh extremist convicted of trying to kill an Indian cabinet minister in 1986 – was photographed with Mr. Trudeau's wife at an event in Mumbai last week. Mr. Atwal's invitation to a later reception in New Delhi was rescinded as soon as news broke that he was on the guest list. Mr. Trudeau has defended his national-security adviser Daniel Jean, who suggested last week that rogue factions in India were behind the presence of Mr. Atwal during his India tour.
After a large harvest that has boosted supplies and driven down prices, India has taken steps to protect its growers and foster domestic food production. Beginning in November, India began imposing duties and taxes of at least 30 per cent on lentils, chickpeas, and yellow and green peas.
Gordon Bacon, chief executive officer of Pulse Canada, which represents growers, processors and sellers of chickpeas and other pulse crops, expressed disappointment at India's move.
"Right after the prime ministers were there talking about the importance of it, within a week we have duties going from 44 to 66 per cent [including import taxes]," he said by phone.
Indian farmers are guaranteed lentil prices that are double those of the world price, and so the country erects barriers to foreign imports. This is a familiar measure in agriculture, similar to Canada's dairy, poultry and egg policies, and the U.S. approach to sugar.
Canada is not a big grower or exporter of chickpeas. But the crop is part of a broader category that includes lentils, and green and yellow peas, for which Canada is a big exporter. India, in turn, is the world's biggest consumer of pulses, a protein-rich crop popular in a country with a large vegetarian population.
"India's shift around pulses and what it means to the Canadian industry is profound, because it was our biggest market. It has been a billion-dollar market every year," Mr. Bacon said. "It has basically fallen off to virtually nothing."
Mr. Bacon, who was recently in India for industry meetings as well as Mr. Trudeau's visit, said he wants India to demonstrate more transparency in how it decides to raise – or lower – import levies.
"I don't think that we were ever expecting India was going to back away from import levies because they have this new policy of enhancing domestic production," Mr. Bacon said. "But what we did want and what we wanted prime ministers to agree on is we wanted transparency in how these decisions are made."