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India, Canada closer to finalising foreign investment pact

Canada's minister of international trade Francoise-Philippe Champagne, who is part of a ministerial trade mission to India next week, told HT the FIPPA agreement is ‘almost there’ .

business Updated: Nov 08, 2017 16:41 IST
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Canada’s minister of international trade François-Philippe Champagne with India’s high commissioner to Ottawa Vikas Swarup at the Canada India Business Symposium this summer.
Canada’s minister of international trade François-Philippe Champagne with India’s high commissioner to Ottawa Vikas Swarup at the Canada India Business Symposium this summer. (Courtesy: Indo-Canada Chamber of Commerce)

India and Canada are “almost there” in terms of finalising a Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement or FIPPA, according to the Canadian minister of international trade.

In an interview ahead of his visit to India as one of three Canadian cabinet ministers leading a trade mission, François-Philippe Champagne said he was “cautiously optimistic” India and Canada “can finalise” FIPPA within the next few months, “probably in 2018”.

Champagne was last in India in March this year soon after being appointed by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to take charge of the international trade portfolio. That period witnessed an upswing in ties between the two nations but a motion in the Ontario Assembly terming the 1984 anti-Sikh riots as “genocide” and an uptick in support for the Khalistan movement in the country, proved to be setbacks.

In that context, Champagne said, “Trade is an enabler for better understanding between nations.”

Acknowledging that downturn, Champagne stressed on the need for the two countries to stay focused on strengthening the relationship. “I’ve always been of the view the best way to address an issue is to be at the table, to engage with each other. You can be frank as well as to issues that work and issues that you like to see improving.”

The Canadian trade mission, the largest in 10 years, is part of the effort to rejuvenate that engagement after a summer of discontent.

Champagne said this visit could serve as “the big catalyst to strengthen our relationship in a number of sectors.” Other than Champagne, the mission will feature minister of innovation, science and economic development Navdeep Bains and minister of transport Marc Garneau.

“This is very significant, we are going to be about 165 people, there are already 85 businesses which have confirmed, we’re going to be visiting four cities and obviously attending the Tech Summit (in New Delhi),” Champagne said.

While Indian officials have felt that Canada has been far too involved in attending to trade links with China and the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement or NAFTA to spare enough attention for India, Champagne dismissed that view.

“I would say almost quite the contrary. Most nations would say, ‘minister, you spend all your time on India’.”

“There is a clear signal from the Canadian side to our Indian friends that we are very serious about that (relationship). I have remained engaged and on top. This is on my to-do list and among my top priorities for Canada,” the minister said.

Canada perceived India as a possible regional hub for businesses, Champagne said, and completing the FIPPA appears to be urgent for Ottawa. “FIPPA for me is an instrument to facilitate even stronger two-way investment. This has been my main message to (finance) minister (Arun) Jaitley.

“We know there’s enormous interest in India on the infrastructure side, there’s enormous interest on the Canadian side with respect to pension funds, that would like to invest in high-quality long-term assets in India. But I think one of the barriers we are finding is that we do need the FIPPA in place so that investors have stability and predictability in their relationship with India. This is mutually beneficial, this has been my message since I first started.”

Another long-delayed accord, the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, could take longer. Champagne said candidly that while this was “also in the making”, it was “kind of a longer term discussion.”

Champagne said that the high-powered forthcoming five-day visit spanning four cities, which commences on Monday, was the Trudeau government’s way of “sending a very strong signal to our Indian colleagues of our interest, of our enthusiasm to strengthen our relationship, and friendship between our two nations.”

The minister, though, would not go into details of when the long-anticipated visit by Trudeau to India will occur. He only said the fact that three ministers will be in India shortly could be taken “as a positive sign for the future.”