Part of a $350 million, five-year contract signed during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Canada in April, it came with strong symbolic resonance of a relationship that has new energy and could gather more momentum in 2016 with a visit to India by new Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“We’re hoping it will be an early visit,” said India’s High Commissioner to Ottawa, Vishnu Prakash, though no schedule has been settled on.
The visit could be a statement from the new Liberal Party government that it wants to take engagement to another level, and Trudeau himself has already gained a high international profile.
But that will only be part of the bilateral process: external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and her counterpart Stephane Dion will resume the Strategic Dialogue between the two countries, interrupted this year by the Canadian parliamentary elections.
In the “normal course”, that will involve Swaraj travelling to Ottawa since the last round was in New Delhi in 2014. Also on the agenda is a meeting between the commerce and trade ministers of the two countries.
“It’s quite a healthy slate with which to be working,” Prakash said.
Among the issues that will require sorting out are the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) and finalisation of the Bilateral Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (BIPPA).
That’s the sense that Rana Sarkar, who was part of Trudeau’s foreign policy advisory council for the elections, has. “There will be an opportunity for the PM to go to India. My understanding is there will be great progress on the file in the year ahead. With more bilateral visits by ministers, it’ll step up the intensity.”
For many years, the bilateral relationship was hit by Canada’s anger over India’s nuclear test in 1974, which Ottawa said was conducted with fissionable material obtained from a Canadian-supplied reactor. There was a turnaround in recent years after India and the US concluded their landmark nuclear deal.
The 1.2-million Persons of Indian Origin, who comprise more than 3% of Canada’s population, have helped strengthen bilateral ties and two-way trade has increased from 4.2 billion Canadian dollars in 2010 to 6.4 billion Canadian dollars in 2014, though experts say this is far below the true potential.
Sarkar, now co-chair of the board of Munk School for Global Affairs at the University of Toronto, said the relationship has moved from being episodic to strategic and the “genesis” of a new infusion of energy into it will come with Trudeau’s visit.
Both Prakash and Sarkar pointed to the rapport that had been established between the two prime ministers, with Modi meeting Trudeau in April, and inviting him for an official visit when the latter’s party won the Canadian election in October, an invitation that was promptly accepted.
“There is a lot of positive energy between the two countries, which is tremendous,” Sarkar said. -AFP
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