By Amb. Praveen Verma
Prime Minister Trudeau’s visit to India is finally happening. After two and half years of assuming office Trudeau will be on Indian soil on a bilateral visit from 17th Feb to 23rd Feb.
During his years as PM, Trudeau has been to China twice, although his Ministers have travelled to India a number of times keeping the dialogue between the two sides on. Trudeau will be accompanied by a high level ministerial delegation as well a large group of businesspersons. Expansion of economic and commercial interests is high on the agenda.
Trudeau’s visit follows India’s Prime Minister Modi’s visit in 2015. Modi’s visit was a stand-alone bilateral visit by an Indian Prime Minister after 42 years and was extremely successful in raising Canada India bilateral relationship to a Strategic Partnership.
During the visit a number of MOUs were signed which included agreements in areas of space exploration, rail transportation, civil aviation, biotechnology and energy cooperation, including long term sale of uranium.
India and Canada share extensive commonalities in terms of democratic traditions, rule of law, plurality and federalism. There is a mutuality of interest between two large nations. Bilateral relationship has taken a leap forward through regular high level interactions, both in political as well as in economic and commercial fields.
Today Canada is home to 1.3 million Indo Canadians who are highly educated and a dedicated hardworking citizen of Canada. They are well represented in all spheres of Canadian mainstream and public life including politics, sports and culture. The last elections saw a dynamic boost to Indo-Canadian representation in Canada’s mainstream political scene. There are 19 MPs of Indian origin in the House of Commons and four Indo-Canadians as Ministers in Federal Cabinet.
Despite such strong linkages and commonalities our economic relations do not come up to par. Total bilateral trade between the two countries during 2016/17 was only US$ 6.135 billion which is way below the potential. India accounts for only around 2% of Canada’s Global trade. Indian FDI in Canada was estimated at C$ 2811 million whereas Canadian FDI in India has been estimated at C$1210 million.
Trudeau and his delegation during this visit will be interacting with political leaders and their counterparts and also participate in business roundtables to promote trade and investments between two countries. Indo Canadian Business Council in Delhi is organising India Business Forum in Mumbai on 20th Feb and in Delhi on 22nd Feb for the Business delegation accompanying the PM. Trudeau’s itinerary also includes visit to Taj Mahal, Golden Temple Amritsar, Jama Masjid and Akshardham Temple.
Trudeau’s visit has raised some concerns in Indian media regarding Trudeau’s position on resurgence of Sikh militancy in Canada. Their concerns do not appear totally unfounded.
In 2016 Trudeau participated in Nagar Kirtan in Toronto that featured Khalistani flags. Trudeau had also addressed a parade on Khalsa Day which included events glorifying Sikh militant leaders.
A resolution denouncing anti Sikh riots in 1984 as genocide was moved by his party colleague and was passed in the Ontario legislature. And vey recently there was a move by a group of Gurdwaras in Toronto to ban entry of Indian Officials/diplomats to enter the holy places.
While all public events have been condoned under “freedom of expression” umbrella, no effort has been seen by Government or Liberal Party to dissociate from the genocide resolution. There is a feeling in the air that something more needs to be done.
Pro Khalistani groups are seen to be on rise and getting bolder. However Indian government’s reaction at best has been polite. In 2016 after the Nagar Kirtan, the issue was taken up diplomatically. During the meeting on the sidelines in Davos earlier this year, the issue of Khalistan and activities of pro Khalistani groups was taken up by Modi with Trudeau.
The scenario is not new. Even during Harper’s visit to India in 2012, the then Minister of State of External Affairs raised the issue of ‘revival of anti –India rhetoric in Canada’. The visit nevertheless was highly successful putting Canada India relations back into top gear.
Trudeau’s visit now comes at a very upbeat stage, where our commonalities have taken front stage. There are complementarities of interests which need to gel and bring the two economies much closer from where they are. The present trade relations is a pittance between two major economies.
India has taken major leaps in presenting itself as a place to do business with. India has joined amongst top 100 nations in Ease of Doing Business jumping 30 points in one year.
India has been successful in presenting a clean, corruption free administration and has been opening areas of participation and investments. FDI is opening up in more areas of interest of foreign investor. Digital India, Smart Cities and Make in India initiatives have opened avenues for foreign investors. Infrastructure, civil Aviation and Agro development are other areas of interest.
Canada on the other hand is looking at diversifying its economic platform and ease its excessive dependence on their North American Trade, especially after the NAFTA uncertainty. India with its vast resources, including human resources, presents an attractive source. The Canadian elegation will be pressing ahead with negotiations on Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) and Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (BIPPA).
Cooperation in energy, education, innovation and IT development find common areas of interest. Immigration of manpower and students in Canadian School is amongst the highest. While small number of major companies has set up establishment on both sides, there is much more to be explored.
PM Modi’s visit has started the process. We feel another quantum leap is due and about to come.
Ambassador Praveen Verma served for over 30 years as an Indian Foreign Service officer. He retired as an Ambassador. He has also served in the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi. His postings included Pakistan, Jordan, Dubai UAE, Panama, Canada (Toronto), Nigeria as Dy. High Commissioner, Istanbul, Turkey as Consul General and Yemen and Guatemala as Ambassador.
He was in Toronto during the period 1998/2002 and steered Panorama India events for two years. He is now settled in Toronto with wife Deepmala and two daughters.