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Saudi Arabia mulls more steps against Canada in spat

Reuters

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau answers questions from the media in Montreal on Wednesday.

BloombergRIYADH (Bloomberg) — Saudi Arabia said it will keep tightening the noose on Canada for criticizing the recent arrests of women’s rights activists.

The kingdom’s foreign minister, Adel Al-Jubeir, said the next wave of retaliatory steps could affect investment flows between the countries.

Saudi Arabia’s central bank and pension funds have already begun selling Canadian assets, according to a Financial Times report on Wednesday that triggered brief selling in the loonie.

“Canada knows what it needs to do,” Al-Jubeir told a news conference in Riyadh on Wednesday, saying there was no need for mediation in the dispute.

“We don’t accept interference in our affairs.”

The Saudi government’s unusually severe response is the latest evidence that while touting himself as a champion for economic and social progress — including by letting women drive for the first time — Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman won’t accept any outside criticism or perceived challenges to his authority.

Under his watch, Saudi Arabia has implemented an increasingly aggressive foreign policy.

In November, the kingdom recalled its ambassador to Germany and cut back commercial ties with some German companies after the then-foreign minister suggested the kingdom had orchestrated the surprise resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, a charge it denies.

“The fact that the Saudis have made similar noises about Germany is further evidence that they are just more willing to escalate with important trade and political partners than in the past,” said Gregory Gause, a professor of international affairs and Saudi specialist at Texas A&M University.

The diplomatic spat with Canada has escalated very quickly, leaving Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wrestling with how to respond to cool the tensions without backtracking on his support for women’s rights.

Since Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland called on Saudi Arabia to release rights activist Samar Badawi from prison on Aug. 2, Saudi Arabia has expelled the Canadian ambassador, frozen new business deals, suspended flights to Toronto and ordered the return of thousands of students who are studying at Canadian schools.

The Saudi Grains Organization, a state-run grains buyer, told traders it will no longer accept milling wheat or feed barley from Canada, according to people familiar with the matter.

Badawi’s brother Raif Badawi, a writer, was arrested in Saudi Arabia in 2012 and later sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison for insulting Islam while blogging.

Raif Badawi’s wife is a Canadian citizen living in Quebec.

Saudi’s asset sales may not have a big impact on the Canadian currency, although seasonally thin trading in August could exacerbate that effect.

Saudi holdings of Canadian dollar reserves are between C$10 billion ($7.7 billion) and C$25 billion, with the upper end of that estimate representing 10 percent of daily Canadian dollar volumes, according to estimates from the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce.

“That’s enough to leave a mark on the loonie in August when volumes are typically lighter,” said Bipan Rai, North American head of foreign exchange strategy at CIBC.

Canada’s main imports from Saudi Arabia are oil, while its exports include armored vehicles as part of a C$15 billion arms contract signed in 2014 with a unit of General Dynamics Corp.

Saudi investments in Canada include Winnipeg, Manitoba-based grain trader G3, which was formed in 2015 after Saudi Agricultural & Livestock Investment Co., or Salic, and Bunge Ltd. acquired a 50.1 percent stake in the former Canadian Wheat Board for C$250 million.

Salic increased its share to 75 percent a year later.

On Tuesday, G3 officials said the company continues to buy and sell grain as usual amid the diplomatic clash. Officials didn’t immediately return requests for comment from Bloomberg News on Wednesday. Speech

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