Saudi Arabia freezes trade with Canada after expelling its ambassador

Saudi Arabia’s flag

Saudi Arabia froze new trade and investment with Canada and expelled the Canadian ambassador, in a stern gesture of retaliation after Ottawa urged it to free arrested civil society activists.

The sudden sharp response to criticism shows the limits of reforms by Saudi Arabia’s 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who runs its day-to-day government, Reuters said.
He has launched a campaign of social and economic change, but has not eased the absolute monarchy’s total ban on political activism, Reuters indicated.

In recent months Saudi Arabia has lifted a ban on women driving, but it has also arrested activists, including more than a dozen high profile campaigners for women’s rights.

The announcement, carried on the official Saudi Press Agency caught diplomats in Riyadh off guard. Both the Saudi and Canadian ambassadors were away on leave when it was made, according to Reuters.

It was not immediately clear what effect, if any, the ban on new trade would have on existing annual Saudi-Canadian trade of nearly $4 billion and on a $13 billion defense contract.

A spokeswoman for the Canadian Foreign Ministry said Canada was “seriously concerned” about Saudi Arabia’s decision, but standing its ground on human rights comments, Reuters reported.

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