As Canada marks the 150th anniversary of Canada Day on July 1st this year, we take a look at the legacy of Indo-Canadian Relations.

Canada and India are set apart by more than 11000kms, one is closer to the icy arctic centre, the other to the warmth of the equator. Yet, the two countries share a robust and steady bond.

In fact, the first set of Indian immigrants travelled to Vancouver, Canada’s west coast seaport in early 1900s. They were primarily from the Sikh Punjabi community who went on to become businessmen. Today, the Indo-Canadian community forms the largest diaspora group in Canada. As many as 30000 Indians travel to Canada every year for work, studies and to immigrate. The strong presence of Indians in Canada is an important factor that provides a rock-solid foundation for the relationship between the countries.

The nations also share common values and respect for multiplicity. Jennifer Daubeny, Canada’s Consul General in Bangalore told us in an interview last year that the countries are both rooted fundamentally in democracy. “Canada stands high on the democratic index and India is, of course, the world’s largest democracy,” she said. “We’re both very pluralistic countries, with a number of communities within them. Canada is also home to diverse communities. Quebec is a predominantly French region – We have other French-speaking communities, as well as bilingual provinces. Both countries put a great emphasis on tolerance and the rule of law. Of course, human rights are very important to both our nations.”

Canada has also become a preferred destination for Indian students pursuing higher education. India is the second largest source of international students in Canada. Official figures point that 32070 students visited Canada in 2015 as opposed to just 4899 in 2006.

While trade between the countries has been growing and was estimated to be $8 billion in 2016, both countries concur that this figure is well below the potential there is. Earlier this year Canadian Minister of International Trade, Mr. François-Philippe Champagne and India’s Commerce and Industry Minister Nirmala Sitharaman met in New Delhi to discuss expansion of bilateral trade. The countries are working on finalising Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (BIPPA) and Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) to ease trade and investments. Champagne recently said that the countries were close to concluding the long-pending BIPPA.

Canada in recent years has shown a reinvigorated will to engage with India. It has collaborated with India in sectors such as automobile, aeronautics, machinery, clean technologies, IT, medicine, agriculture and agri-food among others. Canadian pension funds have already invested $2 billion in India in 2017. Canada has also pitched in support to India’s goal of developing smart cities. It signed an MOU with the government of the state of Maharashtra on urban infrastructure including smart cities, project financing, training and skills development. The two countries also share an MOU on road transportation sector with a focus on road safety. Transport Canada is lending know-how on Intelligent Transportation Systems to the Indian Ministry of Road Transport and Highway (MORTH).

The last three years have seen a surge in official visits between the countries. Prime Minister Modi became the first Indian Prime Minister to visit Canada in four decades in 2015. In 2016, when he met Prime Minister Justin Trudeau he summed up the rapport the countries share when he said, “India and Canada are made for each other.”

India has seen a spate of visits from Canadian business and diplomatic representatives. Last year the Premier of Ontario, Kathleen Wynne led a Canadian delegation to India as part of the ambitious ‘Ontario Business Mission to India’ that included 50 business people. Wynne also met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi to discuss Ontario’s role in India’s Smart Cities Mission. This was followed by ‘Agri-trade mission to India’ later in the year led by Jeff Leal, Minister of Agriculture, Food and rural affairs and Michael Chan, Minister of International Trade. They brought with them a 19-member team from Ontario’s growing agri-food sector.

Earlier this year, Arsha Consulting participated in an Invest in Canada event that focused on the untapped business potential Canada offers India. Canada with its inclusive outlook offers a favourable climate for investment opportunities from India. The country has the lowest tax rates in the G7 countries, 46% lower than the United States, making it a great business destination. Indian banks such as ICICI and State Bank of India are already present in Canada. Indian IT giants such as Tata Consultancy Services, Wipro, Infosys also have a strong presence in the country. While large Indian companies such as Tata Steel, Essar, Arcelor and Mittal, Birla group have forayed into Canada by taking over distressed opportunities.

There have been some bumps along the way – Canada had stopped bilateral nuclear cooperation with India in the 1970s, however it lifted the 34-year ban in 2008 and now provides India nuclear fuel. India is also not too happy with the tightened Temporary Foreign Workers Programme (TWFP) that it feels will affect services trade from India poorly. More recently, New Delhi has been miffed by the Ontario legislature passing a private-member’s motion calling 1984 Sikh riot massacre a genocide.

But overall, both countries want a relationship that is mutually beneficial and are working in that direction. With Prime Minister Trudeau set to visit India sometime this year, it seems as if things can only get better from here on.

About Canada Day:

July 1st is celebrated Canada Day to commemorate the unification of three provinces – Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and the Canada province in 1867 into what became the nation of Canada. Though it was only in 1982, more than a century after this event that Canada became truly independent of British rule.

If you are a Canadian business wanting to foray into India’s complex, but promising market or an Indian business looking to expand your opportunities to Canada, get in touch with our team of experienced international trade experts.

Elizabeth Raj | Blogger

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