In an Interview with Envoy Excellency H.E. Mr. Ajay Bisaria, High Commissioner of India to Canada

Canada and India have developed a strong friendship over the last few decades. Can you comment on the contemporary relationship between the two nations?

As large democracies and major G-20 countries, India and Canada have much to collaborate on, particularly as the world grapples with a devastating pandemic.

The way India and Canada supported each others’ fight against Covid-19 has demonstrated to us that as democracies, we need to work together to build more resilient systems and networks. The battle against the pandemic will eventually be won by science and technology and this realization re-inforces the need for greater collaboration between India and Canada on scientific research and developments.

Our people-to-people relations are unique with 1.6 million Canadians of Indian heritage and almost 700,000 Indians living in Canada, including more than 200,000 students in Canadian universities and colleges. The Indian community in Canada has contributed to the diversity and resilience of Canada. It is completely integrated into Canadian life and is playing strong leadership roles in all sectors from public life to science to arts. The community has provided four Cabinet ministers in the current government, in all 22 MPs in the Parliament. This gives a very strong base for growth of India Canada relations.

We have in place the entire spectrum of collaborative mechanisms on areas ranging from counter terrorism to promotion of science and technology to arctic research to higher education and cultural exchanges.

India Canada bilateral trade has now grown to more than USD 10 billion. Canada is an important source of primary produce to India, including uranium, potash and bituminous coal. India exports pharmaceuticals, steel and IT services to Canada. Canadian funds have invested more than USD 60 billion in a wide range of sectors in India. Major Indian companies like TATA, Mahindra, Birla, and Infosys have a strong and growing presence in Canada. We see bilateral commercial relations growing, as Canadian companies develop a greater appreciation of the importance of India, in diversifying risks and building robust international supply chains.

The total trade between the two countries has grown steadily over the past 5 years. Please tell us more about the major Indo-Canadian joint ventures.

The trade and investment linkages between India and Canada form an integral component of the multi-faceted partnership between the two countries. The bilateral trade figures have shown consistent increase over the last few years. From 2016, when the total trade was valued at C$8.02 billion, it had increased to C$10.23 billion in 2019, an increase of 27.55%.

The bilateral trade figures for 2020 are still remarkable since it came against the backdrop of global economic slowdown due to Covid-19. The total bilateral trade (Goods & Services) between India and Canada in 2020 stand at C$ 13.52 billion (USD 11.18 billion).

Canadian institutional investors and pension funds have been strong in seizing growth oriented and sustainable investment opportunities in India. Canadian investments in India have risen from C$ 5 billion in 2015 to over C$ 60 billion now in sectors such as Infrastructure, Highways, Airports, Clean Energy, Education, Logistics, Real Estate, Banking, Hospitality and Warehousing. The Canadian organizations are increasingly viewing India as an attractive destination for investments. In fact, in Feb 2020, Brookfield overtook USA’s Blackstone to become the largest private investor in India with over C$ 20 billion.

India and Canada have signed numerous MoUs across various areas such as Energy, Information Technology, Bio-technology, Agri-tech, R&D, Defense & Security, Science & Technology, Education, Nuclear Energy, Transportation Infrastructure, Aviation, Healthcare, Electronics and Telecommunications, Intellectual Property Rights, International Business Strategies, etc.

The High Commission of India in Canada continues to guide and encourage collaborative R&D proposals including joint and collaborative PhDs between Canadian Universities and IITs in India. The Mission has also supported two India focused centers in Canada that foster collaboration between Canadian research institutions and Indian industry-

  • IC-IMPACTS hosted by University of British Columbia and
  • Canada-India Centre for Excellence (CICE), hosted by Carleton University in Ottawa.

What does the ‘Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement’ mean for the trade relations between the two nations?

India and Canada have resumed talks on Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA). Our political leadership has already given guidance that we need to accelerate our negotiations. The differences between the two sides are not insurmountable and we are hopeful that focused negotiations for an ‘early harvest’ approach can yield productive results. The two Prime Ministers have spoken thrice during the pandemic. The two Foreign Ministers and the Trade Ministers have also spoken regularly in recent months. Even as we continue to negotiate the CEPA, both countries are looking at all avenues to deepen trade and investment relationship. The CEPA will certainly enhance the bilateral trade between India and Canada as this will provide more opportunities for companies in both India and Canada to increase their exports.

The early conclusion of CEPA would also enable both the countries to establish stronger ties and understanding in areas such as rules of origin, customs (origin) procedures, trade facilitation mechanisms, technical barriers to trade, sanitary and phytosanitary issues, intellectual property rights, institutional provisions, labour agreements, e-commerce, liberalization of trade in services, remedies for trade disputes, bilateral investment channels and other matters relating to competition policies and state enterprises.

As you know, India is ready to celebrate its 75 years of Independence. How is the Embassy of India going to contribute?

Strengthening and further deepening our mutual understanding and highlighting India’s stellar achievements in the last 75 years, in the wide spectrum of spheres such as science & technology, higher education, trade and investment will be the High Commission’s goal for celebrating the 75thyear of India’s Independence, which also coincides with the celebrations of establishment of diplomatic relations with Canada 75 years ago.

Canada has become a preferred destination for Indian students seeking higher education. Over 200,000 students from India are registered at various post-secondary institutions in Canada. These students bring in substantial revenues for Canadian institutions and receive the benefit of world class training and education. These young people are perhaps the best example of our joint collaboration.

For celebration of 75 years of Independence, India@75, we have a wide range of exciting activities planned throughout the period of celebration to mark India’s 75th year of freedom. As a fellow democracy, Canada is giving an excellent reception to these ideas. The range of events is large, from events that showcase the cultural diversity and richness of India to seminars and conferences on India’s democratic experience. As we return to normalcy, such events will gain greater momentum. As you know, the public health requirements in Covid times had impacted day-to-day life and our preparations for celebratory events too.

Recently, International Yoga Day was celebrated around the world. How has Canada participated in India’s cultural arena?

7th International Day of Yoga was celebrated in Canada with enthusiasm despite the Covid pandemic, virtual Yoga Sessions were held daily beginning from 25 May, specially curated by renowned organizations like Art of Living, Brahma Kumaris, Isha Foundation and Patanjali Yoga Centre and Vedic Sanskruti. A Special Virtual Yoga Session for Parliamentarians was organised by the High Commission on 20th June, led by Hon. Chandra Arya, MP from Nepean. Rt. Hon. Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, issued several letters supporting Yoga events in the run-up to IDY 2021. In all, 82 programmes promoting and showcasing Yoga were organized across Canada as part of IDY-2021. We ensured that all the events were safe and in keeping with the public health regulations in force.

As a receptive, diverse and multi-cultural society itself, Canada has readily absorbed the cultural ethos of different communities that have made Canada their home. Home to 1.6 million people with Indian heritage, Canada has adopted a diversity of cultural strands from the mosaic of India.  These are now enjoyed and celebrated not only by the Indian community but by a much wider audience in Canada. According to a survey last year, some 20% of Canadians have taken to practicing yoga in some form or the other.

Canada has the world’s eighth largest Indian diaspora. When does the Embassy extend consular facilities to the Indian nationals?

Essential consular services have never been held back. Due to public health measures mandated by Canadian Authorities, in-person services had to be restricted and we are awaiting further relaxation of restrictions to offer the complete range of services. For the same reason, naturally the demand for non-essential services had also been low. Since the Covid situation in India has improved significantly, we have requested Canadian authorities to resume direct flights to and from India, upon resumption of which there will be marked demand for consular services, and the High Commission and its Consulates in Toronto and Vancouver won’t be found wanting.

Have there been any recent developments in Canada that is likely to influence the formulation of India’s policies?

India and Canada share values of democracy, pluralism, liberty, multi-culturalism. Add to that complementary economic structures and strong people-to-people ties. These have created a platform for development of our bilateral relations which have been on an upward trajectory since April 2015 when the Indian Prime Minister visited Canada and the two countries agreed to elevate the relationship to that of strategic partnership.

Both sides pursue bilateral relations through dialogue mechanisms such as Ministerial level- Strategic, Trade and Energy dialogues; Foreign Office Consultations; and other sector specific joint working groups (JWG).

Would you like to give any message to our Envoy readers?

I would only wish everyone good health in these pandemic times; and not to be complacent in following Covid protocols. I am optimistic that we will build back a better, greener and smarter planet, with India being part of the healing touch in terms of vaccines and pharmaceuticals. We will overcome this crisis and emerge stronger and hopefully with a better understanding of our inter-dependent lives on this planet, and thus be prepared to face such challenges in future.


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