In the first half of 2018, Canada exported CAD 1.4 billion ($1.1 billion) in merchandise goods to Saudi Arabia and imported CAD 2 billion in imports, leaving it with a cumulative year-to-date trade deficit with the kingdom of about CAD 640 million.
Saudi Arabia halted new trade and investment dealings with Canada and suspended diplomatic ties in a dramatic escalation of a dispute over the kingdom’s arrest of a women’s rights activist.
The kingdom recalled its ambassador to Ottawa and ordered the Canadian envoy to Riyadh to leave within 24 hours, according to a foreign ministry statement cited by the Saudi Press Agency. Canada is “seeking greater clarity” about the matter, said a Spokeswoman for Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland.
The Saudi foreign ministry cited remarks last week by Freeland and the Canadian embassy in Riyadh, criticising Saudi Arabia’s arrests of women’s rights activists including Samar Badawi. She is a Canadian citizen whose brother Raif Badawi, a blogger who was critical of the Saudi government, was already in gaol in the kingdom.
In a statement, the Kingdom’s foreign ministry said that the Saudi Government views the Canadian position as an affront to the kingdom that requires a sharp response to prevent any party from attempting to meddle with Saudi sovereignty.
The stand-off pits a Saudi Arabian government that is slowly opening the door to women’s rights against Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, an outspoken champion of women’s advancement, who named a gender-balanced cabinet shortly after his 2015 election.
Just two months ago, Saudi women were given the right to drive a car, yet several of the country’s most prominent women’s rights activists including some who fought for years to drive were arrested earlier this year on national security grounds.
span> “We are seriously concerned by these media reports and are seeking greater clarity on the recent statement from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” said Marie-Pier Baril, a Spokeswoman for Freeland
“Canada will always stand up for the protection of human rights, very much including women’s rights, and freedom of expression around the world. Our government will never hesitate to promote these values and believes that this dialogue is critical to international diplomacy.”
Saudi Arabia’s investments in Canada include G3 Global Holdings, a joint venture between Bunge and Saudi Agricultural & Livestock Investment, which purchased the former Canadian Wheat Board in 2015. Saudi Arabia has invested about $6 billion in Canadian businesses since 2006, data compiled by Bloomberg show.
Tanks, armoured vehicles and parts and motor vehicles accounted for about 45 per cent of Canada’s 2016 exports to the kingdom, while crude oil and copper ores comprised about 98 per cent of imports. Saudi Arabia supplies oil to the Irving refinery in Saint John, New Brunswick.