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What does Canada need to see to resume trade talks with India? Minister won't say

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International Trade Minister Mary Ng won’t say which conditions India needs to meet for Canada to resume negotiating a free trade deal with the country, a process that’s been on pause since last September.

“We haven't made any decisions at this point,” she told CTV’s Question Period host Vassy Kapelos in an interview airing Sunday, adding she has plans to speak with her Indian counterpart in the coming days, and she continues “to support Canadian businesses.”

Relations between Canada and India have been strained since last September when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said there was credible evidence the Indian government may have been involved in the murder of a Canadian Sikh leader in B.C. last summer.

India has denied the allegations, and initially refused to work with Canada on any investigation into the death. A week before the prime minister levelled that accusation against India, negotiations on a trade deal were abruptly halted.

Trudeau’s former national security advisor Jody Thomas told Kapelos on CTV’s Question Period last month that India is now cooperating with the investigation, describing the changing relationship as an “evolution.”

Ng, when pressed on what needs to happen for the two countries to resume negotiating a free trade deal, wouldn’t specify.

“We are in regular dialogue,” Ng said, when asked whether any progress on trade talks is contingent on cooperation with the investigation into Hardeep Singh Nijjar’s death, or whether Canada plans to wait until the investigation is concluded.

Ng said Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly has also recently met with her counterpart, and dialogue between ministers from both countries is ongoing.

“This is something that I want to make sure that we are doing, everything we can, looking after Canadian interests first and foremost, and I think Canadians can count on me for doing that,” she said.

Ng also said that while talks “continue to be paused,” she’s “heartened” to see business and investment between the two countries continue.

“I've been very clear with Canadians who are doing business that they can count on our support, and that continues,” she said. “We do want to and we are seeing encouraging signs of the investigation that is taking place, of course independently.”

When asked whether the talks are tied to the accusation levied by Trudeau against the Indian government, Ng said “it isn’t.”

But when pressed on the conditions for picking negotiations back up, if not contingent on the investigation into Nijjar’s death, Ng said “it is work that is ongoing.”

“And I will share with the Canadian public and with you more when I have more to share,” she said.

Kapelos then asked again how a lack of specificity around what Canada needs to see to resume trade talks should be interpreted.

“I think what you can interpret is that I'm happy to share more when I'm able to, and right now I've given you all of the update that that I'm able to,” Ng said.

In her interview, Ng also discussed the recently passed Canada-Ukraine trade bill, and the negotiating process around whether or not to include language around carbon pricing in the deal.

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