Envoy sees delay in India-Canada trade agreement

Ahmedabad, Jul 15 (PTI): Canada’s High Commissioner to India Nadir Patel has said chances of early conclusion of the trade agreement between his country and India are bleak but trade is growing rapidly. Bilateral trade between the two countries grew by 60 per cent in the last five years to $9 billion and is expected to triple in the next few years. ‘I don’t think finalisation of trade agreement will take place soon as negotiations are going on at a slow pace, but both sides are keen,’ Patel told PTI in an interview. ‘The fact is Canada is a free trading economy, we are trade libralisers while India remains a protective economy in many sectors and that is the reason, but negotiations are going on and we expect to conclude it at some point,’ he said.

Negotiations for trade agreement between the two countries have been going on for over a decade. Asked if any meeting on trade negotiations is likely in the next few months, Patel replied in the negative. ‘First, due to elections in India and now, due to elections in Canada no such discussions are expected in the nearby period,’ he said. Patel, who is of Gujarati origin and has almost completed five years as ambassador to India, said trade growth has been robust in the last five years. ‘Bilateral trade between the two nations grew by 60 per cent in last five years to $9 billion, and it is expected to triple to $30 billion in the next few years and the overall target of growth is $50 billion,’ he said. ‘Investment by Canadian companies in India has gone up to over $25 billion from $4.5 billion in last few years. Over 1,000 Canadian companies have invested in India,’ he said.

Patel said his country’s government will organise road shows across different cities in Gujarat this fall to bring more number of Canadian companies here, as the feedback of other companies operating in the state has been very positive. ‘We want to have a greater focus on the Indian investment coming to Canada also,’ he said. Though trade ties will be the key between the two countries, Canada also wants to focus on security, defence, cultural and people-to-people relationship, he said. ‘To make the relationship vibrant, our focus is also on areas like security, defence, culture. Among other things, the areas ofcooperation also include social fabric of the country in which we are looking for improving cooperation in sectors like diversity and inclusiveness growth of women in leadership position,’ he said.

According to Patel, Canada has a very open immigration policy and the country does not discriminate against anyone on the basis of religion, culture or ethnicity. He said the people of Indian origin form four per cent of the total Canadian population. The number of Indian students is the highest in Canada and education ties is a win-win for both the countries, he added. One of the biggest issues between the two nations has been the Khalistan extremist groups which dominated during Canadian president Justin Trudeau’s visit to India last year. Patel said one issue cannot define ties.

‘The relationship is far more resilient than to be side-tracked by any one issue. Trade ties are growing at record numbers and so are culture ties, which is its proof. Let me just clarify that vast majority of Sikh community in Canada is peace-loving, but there may be certain individuals whose viewpoints do not coincide with that of India’s,’ he said. ‘Our government has made it clear that Canada does not want breakup of India and we will take the case of extremist elements very seriously if they break any laws. We are working closely with Indian security agencies on this,’ he said. ‘Countries will have issues between them, but friends can work their way around it and that is evident in the form of relationship between our two countries,’ he said.

Patel, who has his roots in Bharuch district of Gujarat, said although he is ‘first and foremost a Canadian’, but is ‘proud’ of his ‘Gujarati heritage. ‘You need not be from the diaspora to be successful as there have been many successful ambassadors in the past. My knowledge of language, cities, culture has helped me in in this job,’ Patel said, when asked if it helped or was it an hindrance to be of Indian origin and work as an envoy of a different country.

NT Bureau