India’s new chickpea tariff was presented by Conservatives Friday as another consequence of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s bungled trip to India. But industry insiders say the global trade measure has a built-in exemption for the specific type of chickpeas Canada exports to India.
To understand the issue, it’s important to understand that there are several types of chickpeas. In Canada, 95 per cent of our exported chickpeas to India are kabuli chickpeas, according to Gordon Bacon, CEO of Pulse Canada, a group that represents chickpea farmers.
India’s new tariff, which jumped to 60 per cent from 40 per cent, specifically targets desi chickpeas — not kabuli chickpeas.
Another important figure: Canada only accounts for 2 per cent of India’s total chickpea imports.
Bacon suggested that, rather than retaliating against Canada, India is taking steps to protect its own farmers.
“We have to understand that India’s policy is driven by a decision within the Indian government to increase the level of price protection and support for Indian farmers,” he told CTV’s Power Play on Friday.
However, in question period, the debate did not delve into differentiating the two different types of chickpeas.
Instead, Conservative House Leader Candice Bergen specifically blamed Trudeau’s recent trade trip to India, which has been mired in controversy over how Jaspal Atwal, a B.C. Sikh convicted of trying to kill an Indian cabinet minister in 1986, was invited to an event.
An official within the Trudeau government suggested that factions within the Indian government arranged the invitation.
Bergen called the tariff “a clear signal that India is understandably upset and Canadian chickpea producers are the first to pay the price.”
“His conspiracy theory against India is causing a breakdown in our relationship,” Bergen said. “The Indian government said yesterday that the chickpea tariff increase was due to circumstances that make it necessary to take immediate action. Well, we all know what circumstances they are referring to.”
International Trade Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said the government is continuing to work with Canadian farmers.
“I spoke to Pulses Canada. We’re going to continue to work with them, because what we want for our farmers is stability and predictability,” Champagne said.
Speaking in Barrie, Ont., Trudeau clarified that India’s tariff doesn’t target Canadian farmers. He added that he spoke with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi about providing greater predictability on future tariffs.
Trudeau said he also spoke with Modi about better pest treatment control on exports.
“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,” he said.
While Canadian chickpea producers will be largely unscathed by the move, Bacon said the lentil industry is keeping a close eye on India.
Canada produces about 90 per cent of India’s lentil imports, and India’s levy on lentils is about 33 per cent. However, Bacon says, the country is free to raise that levy as they see fit.
“And this obviously presents some instability in trade when we don’t know what the effective duty will be when cargos arrive,” he said.
“So all countries share a concern with India’s actions, where they’re increasing levies without any of us having an idea of why or at what time those levies may start to come back down.”