Some British Columbia businessmen who sell their products to India say they are worried about the future of their livelihoods as diplomatic relations between Canada and the Indian government break down.
Sunny Brar, a farmer from Langley, British Columbia, said he is trying to determine a way to move forward with his 40-acre blueberry farm.
“It’s very scary,” Brar said.
Local sales were falling, so for the first time earlier this year, Brar says it successfully sold about 10 percent of its fresh blueberry production to India.
It is a path he would like to continue following.
But with tensions rising between Canada and India since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused the Indian government of involvement in the murder of a Surrey Sikh activist, he worries it could affect next year’s sales.
“Is our investment… dead or is it going to be something that can, you know, grow more?” he says, adding that he needs to start pruning his bushes accordingly if he continues with his plans to sell and ship more fresh blueberries.
Brar’s export effort required years of preliminary work.
He collaborated with the owners of export and supply chain management company Fruitsy, who say much of their business depends entirely on Indian demand for Canadian fruit.
“India has other options. So as a company outside of Canada, we’re worried… they would say, ‘Okay, we’ll find other regions,'” says co-founder Vivek Dhume. “But for us, this is our livelihood.”
Dhume says this left him worried and confused about what to tell the farmers he works with about the coming year.
Bad time for political dispute
India is British Columbia’s fifth largest trading partner, according to British Columbia government statistics.
In 2022, Canada imported and exported a record amount of goods and services between the two countries worth almost $20 billion.
Analysts such as Carlo Dade of the Canada West Foundation say the political standoff could not have come “at a worse time,” when trade negotiations between the two countries under the Indo-Pacific strategy were underway.
Trade Minister Mary Ng canceled a much-hyped trade mission to India scheduled for October, just before the prime minister’s explosive announcement.
Dade says that while the trade negotiations and trade mission were not expected to generate immediate trade dollars, industries are counting on it to secure and clear trade paths without sudden government restrictions.
There is more uncertainty now, but he predicts trade will persist much like it did when ties between Canada and China broke down several years ago.
“When the relationship was at its lowest point, trade continued to grow,” he said, noting that trade is expected to continue growing as long as neither country implements sanctions or embargoes.
“If you have a product that others want and you sell it at a good price, it reaches the market.”
“Very, very disappointed”
The Surrey Board of Trade hopes that will be the case.
CEO Anita Huberman says she has been working with her team to build ties with India since her first trade mission in 2011 and was “very, very disappointed” at how the policy has developed.
When India suspended visa services in Canada, he says businesses were instantly affected.
“We know that when we have to do business in any country we have to go to the field to develop those relationships,” he says.
But she says her organization isn’t giving up.
She and others hope both governments can soon find a positive path forward so that no one else gets caught up in the tension.