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Canada’s Trudeau talks trade in India on weeklong state visit

by Kiran Sharma (feat. Colin Robertson)

Asian Review
February 20, 2018

NEW DELHI -- Making his first visit to India since assuming office in 2015, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is set to discuss deepening bilateral cooperation in areas such as trade and investment and energy during his meeting Friday with counterpart Narendra Modi.

Trudeau, along with his wife and three children, kicked off a weeklong tour on Sunday with a visit to the iconic Taj Mahal monument in Agra, a city in the northern Uttar Pradesh state.

On Monday, he traveled to Ahmedabad in Modi's home state of Gujarat in India's west, where he visited Sabarmati Ashram -- one of the residences of Mahatma Gandhi -- and later met with students at the prestigious Indian Institute of Management.

"There is a lot of room to grow" bilateral trade, Trudeau said at the IIM event.

According to the government here, India accounts for only 2% of Canada's global trade. Its exports to Canada include gems, jewelry, pharmaceuticals, ready-made garments, textiles, organic chemicals, light engineering goods, and iron and steel articles. It imports pulses, wood pulp, potash, iron scrap, copper, minerals and industrial chemicals, among other goods.

In Canada, Indian companies have invested in sectors such as information technology, steel and natural resources, with Aditya Birla Group, Essar Steel, Tata Consultancy Services, Tech Mahindra, Wipro and Infosys having substantial operations there. The government-run State Bank of India and the private ICICI Bank have seven and nine branches in Canada, respectively.

However, there is a strong need to speed up trade negotiations and agreements that enhance economic ties. The last time a Canadian prime minister visited India was November 2012, when Stephen Harper traveled to the country. Modi made a visit to Canada in April 2015.

In an opinion piece in the Globe and Mail, the Canadian newspaper, Colin Robertson, vice president and fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, pointed out that the foreign investment protection agreement concluded between the two sides in 2007 has yet to be implemented.

"Free trade negotiations began in 2010. The six-month 'road map' to its achievement, that Mr. Harper and Mr. Modi enthused about during the Indian prime minister's Canadian visit in April, 2015, has yet to materialize," Robertson added.

Apart from trade and investment, his upcoming discussions with Modi and other Indian leaders are expected to focus on cooperation in security and counterterrorism.

Security also high on agenda for meeting with Narendra Modi

"India and Canada share a strategic partnership underpinned by the values of democracy, pluralism, equality for all and the rule of law," the External Affairs Ministry here said ahead of Trudeau's visit. "Strong people-to-people contacts and the presence of a large Indian diaspora in Canada provide a strong foundation for the relationship." 

On his arrival on Saturday, Trudeau and his family were received by Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, the junior agriculture minister in Modi's government. Some saw this welcome as a snub to the Canadian leader over his apparent support in Canada of Sikh separatists, who tried to seek a homeland of their own by breaking away from India.

"On official state visits to India, PM Modi personally greets and welcomes the Israeli PM, UAE Crown Prince and US President. For PM Trudeau, he sends a low-ranking official," tweeted Candice Malcolm, a columnist for the Toronto Sun.

Only district-level officials welcomed the Trudeau family on their Taj Mahal visit -- a sharp contrast from last month's tour by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, who were received by Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.

Canada is home to over 1.2 million people of Indian origin, who comprise more than 3% of its population. Around 500,000 of these people are of the Sikh religion with roots in India's northern Punjab state, and are seen as a crucial voting bloc by Trudeau's Liberal Party.

The Canadian prime minister will also visit Punjab, the only state in India where Sikhs have a majority, on Wednesday.

According to Canadian media reports, Trudeau is expected to express support for a unified India as per his country's official stance while not opposing those peacefully demanding an independent Sikh state.


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