Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke about India and Canada being “made for each other” during his bilateral meeting with Justin Trudeau in Washington, but ties have to get back on track as two significant agreements are yet to be inked after five years of negotiations.
Canada is facing strong headwinds due to a global downturn in commodity prices, particularly petroleum products, and this may, ironically, push it to pay more attention to India at this time.
It’s no surprise Modi commented on the “new energy, dynamism and speed” in bilateral relations after Trudeau became Prime Minister in November 2015.
Multiple high-level meetings could accelerate that process – external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj is expected in Ottawa in June for the third round of the strategic dialogue, and commerce minister Nirmala Sitharaman and deputy national security adviser Arvind Gupta are also scheduled to visit the Canadian capital.
Indian high commissioner Vishnu Prakash said the two sides are “ready to resume discussions” on the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) and the Foreign Investment Promotion Agreement (FIPA).
“Both sides feel the agreements are in mutual interest,” he told Hindustan Times.
Negotiations for both began in 2010, but progress was slowed, first by India’s general election in 2014 and then parliamentary polls in Canada last year. “We expect to see progress in both negotiations,” Prakash said.
When Modi and Trudeau met on the margins of the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, it was the fourth encounter between the two – Trudeau, then leader of the opposition Liberal Party, had met Modi when the Indian leader visited Canada last April, and subsequently as counterparts, they “exchanged pleasantries” at multilateral events such as the G-20 summit in Turkey and the climate change summit in Paris late last year.
After this, the first formal bilateral meeting, Trudeau’s office said in a statement: “The two leaders undertook to advance the longstanding relations between the two countries, which are built on shared traditions of democracy and pluralism as well as extensive people-to-people ties. They also discussed cooperation on increasing trade and investment links and addressing climate change.”
Escalating the partnership in the energy sector, especially nuclear power, could be another part of the equation.
While Modi’s visit to Canada in 2015 highlighted ties between the two countries, it came with barely six months left for the Stephen Harper government and proved a peak in a period of stasis.
Trudeau reiterated his acceptance of an invitation to visit India during his latest meeting with Modi. “We are in touch with each other for the visit on an early date,” the Indian envoy said.
That visit, when it happens, could give the India-Canada narrative the new impetus it needs.