Canadian military-goods exports dropped last year as sales to Saudi Arabia fell

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OTTAWA — The federal government reported Tuesday the value of Canadian military-goods exports fell last year as its sales to Saudi Arabia dropped.

Canada's annual report on exports of military equipment says in 2020 it sold approximately $1.966 billion in controlled military goods to international buyers compared to $3.757 billion in 2019.

The report says this decrease in export value was largely attributed to the lower value of military exports to Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia was the largest non-U. S. destination of Canadian military exports, accounting for $1.311 billion or 67 per cent of these sales.

Compared to 2019, the value of military exports to Saudi Arabia decreased by $1.553 billion.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau froze approvals of new military export permits to Saudi Arabia, pending a review, following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018.

The review was completed in April 2020, when the government said it had made significant improvements to a contract to sell Saudi Arabia light-armoured vehicles and would assess new export permit applications on a case-by-case basis.

Most of Canada's military exports last year consisted of ground vehicles and their components.

In an emailed statement, peace-research group Project Ploughshares blasted Canada for continuing to do business with Saudi Arabia.

"As there is credible evidence that Saudi Arabia has breached the laws of war in Yemen, and has gone so far as to illicitly provide these vehicles to proxies in that conflict, Canada's continued arms exports to Riyadh is a breach of domestic and international law," it said.

Industry often laments Canada's export regulations as being unfairly stringent, or applied in an ad hoc manner, yet this is not the case, the group added.

"Less than one per cent of export permits for full military goods were denied in 2020 — almost a perfect approval rating," it said. "This is despite many export destinations routinely being the site of serious human rights abuses."

The report on the exports of military goods is tabled annually in Parliament to promote transparency around the country's sales of these items.

According to the latest report, Global Affairs Canada has not implemented any new export restrictions as a response to COVID-19 but considered processing of export permit applications a priority service throughout the pandemic.

The department also reallocated resources to ensure the continuity of the permit application and assessment process.

Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau's office didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 1, 2021.

Arvin Joaquin, The Canadian Press