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Canada and India: Beginning Again?

January 22, 2009

Today, Canada’s International Trade Minister Stockwell Day wraps up his first official visit to India. Many observers in the media, business and policy communities have viewed this effort as a solid attempt to craft new economic relations with the emerging power, while some worry these efforts are too little, too late. 

On the whole, Day has had a receptive audience during his stay, finding access to the top Indian business councils, trade officials and most notably Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. This is likely due (in part) to the recent appointment of senior diplomat Joseph Caron as Canada’s High Commissioner in Delhi and the level leadership he brings to the post. However, key deliverables from this visit remain outstanding, primarily an EPA (economic partnership agreement) and a civilian nuclear technology and resource cooperation agreement. Both seem to have made progress, but talks will continue.

The federal government has had ample time to foster new economic relations with India. As Dr. Ryan Touhey, Fellow at the Canadian International Council (CIC), has argued, the federal government “has not had a clear policy approach to India despite listing India as one of its three foreign policy priorities” since assuming office in 2006. Instead, minor initiatives such as the conclusion of a Foreign Investment Protection Agreement in 2007 and the continuation of a Science and Technology (S&T) agreement concluded by the Liberals in 2005.

This trend of good intentions and lack of delivery has unfortunately has become a staple of the current administration’s international policy, missing out on trade opportunities and key diplomatic relationships with the major emerging economies of India, China, South Africa and Brazil. While these economies steam ahead in terms of output and influence – with relative stability amid the global financial crisis – Canada has to play a game of catch-up.

In April of last year, Prime Minister Harper announced the opening of two new trade offices in India: Hyderabad, southern India’s Information-Communications Technology hub; and Kolkata, the main business, commercial, financial, and transportation centre of eastern India. Both cities have already experienced a flood of foreign investment and have been destinations for outsourcing by Western firms.

But, perhaps Day’s current visit should be interpreted with less cynicism, and more as a sign of new engagements with a key actor in Canada’s World.

As Christopher Raj and Abdul Nafey emphasize in their recent book, Canada’s Global Engagements and Relations with India, there are many “like-minded” international interests of the two countries. They lament the long-standing cool relations – spurred by India’s weaponization of Canadian nuclear energy technology in the 1970s – and underscore the shared political traditions (inherited from Britain) and mutual interest in democracy promotion around the globe.

Conversely, distinguished McGill University scholars Baldev Raj Nayar and T.V. Paul argue in their 2003 book, India in the World Order: Searching for Major-Power Status, that the foreign policy outlooks between the two countries could not be more different. They suggest that India strives for regional strategic dominance and economic clout, while Canada is content as a soft-spoken middle power, which defers to the U.S. for strategic capacity.

In either case, India must factor in a big way in our nation’s international outlook. We need to look no further than in our own communities, where Indian families now constitute one of the largest immigrant groups. With this in mind, Canada has the opportunity to harness its domestic capacities and connections to leverage renew, equitable relations with India.


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