Justin Trudeau’s visit could help overcome irritants in India-Canada tiesUpdated: Dec 25, 2017 17:16 IST
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with his Canadian counterpart Justin Trudeau on the sidelines of the 12th G-20 Summit at Hamburg, Germany, in July.(PTI File)
A flourishing relationship between India and Canada ought to be a no-brainer given the common threads that run through the two democracies. Instead, this underperforming engagement continues to be a head-scratcher for analysts on both sides.
That could change with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s visit to India in February. After an underwhelming trip to China where Beijing turned down an offer to start work on a free trade pact, the Canadian prime minister could be far more motivated to deepen bilateral ties.
More importantly, it could provide impetus to a relationship that has lagged behind after starting off with plenty of energy in the early months of the Trudeau administration.
“We just had three ministers from the Canadian government in India in November and I think that was a very successful visit. It’s always a great lead-up to a prime ministerial visit because it sets the agenda in many ways,” said Stewart Beck, President and CEO of the Vancouver-based Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada.
“India and the Indian market of a billion people plus, growing 7% a year, and being able to diversify and expand our trading relationship, is really quite critical,” he added.
Beck, who had earlier served as the Canadian high commissioner to India, said such high-profile encounters allow the principals to overcome obstacles: “From my experience, we had two visits prior to the prime minister (Stephen Harper) in 2012 and they helped set the framework for a lot of the work we did around nuclear, the agreement around administrative arrangements and ultimately it resulted in the sale of uranium to India.”
He noted that the two sides were finally able to put to bed 45 years of issues around the nuclear file.
Ramesh Sangha, Liberal Party MP from Brampton Centre seconds that optimistic view.
“It will be a big thing because we want to have good relations between both the countries. My feeling is that both sides are interested,” said Sangha, who is also the chair of the Canada–India Parliamentary Friendship Group. “It will be a good step in making progress. It’s the need of the day today.”
A pair of bilateral trade and investment pacts will be discussed and there is hope that at least one may emerge as a tangible deliverable. “My hope is we can settle on language between now and the time of the prime minister’s visit,” Beck said.
The major roadblock to smooth ties has been the resurgence of the Khalistan movement in Canada and what is perceived in India as Ottawa ignoring the separatists on its territory.
That may be a matter Trudeau will have to directly deal with in New Delhi. “I think he has to indicate to his Indian counterparts, whether it’s the Prime Minister or other people, that this is not the case, this is not something that’s being supported at the governmental level,” Beck said.
But the personality Trudeau possesses, could be a real deal-maker. As Sangha said, “The way he presents himself and the country, it’s really a delight.”
Beck agreed, “India being India, and there is a gravitation towards Bollywood stars, people with a high profile, I think certainly the prime minister will capture an awful lot of attention. (Indian Prime Minister Narendra) Modi has his own gravitas and appeal, I think the two of them together will make an interesting combination at the time of the visit.”
In fact, a rockstar reception for Trudeau could help further ties, as Beck said, “I think it sends a good message here domestically if it’s a good visit. It will put India on people’s radar screens here in Canada and I think that will be good for India.”
First Published: Dec 25, 2017 17:16 IST