The improving relations between Canada and India have already started to pay off after the two countries struck a momentous vaccine deal, with 500,000 doses arriving in Toronto on March 3 and another 1.5 million to come before May.
India’s High Commissioner to Canada Ajay Bisaria told The Epoch Times that India wants to play a more prominent role on the international stage and would welcome deeper economic ties with Canada and have it be more involved in the Indo-Pacific region.
Just three months ago, Indo-Canada relations had taken a hit due to comments Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other Canadian politicians made in support of Indian farmers’ protests over the government’s agricultural reforms. But a Feb. 10 call between Trudeau and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi appears to have ironed out any lingering issues.
As a result, it wasn’t a surprise that Trudeau lauded the way India’s government managed the farm protests using democracy and dialogue, Bisaria said.
“The farm [reform] bills were really passed for very good reasons—to aim at doubling farm incomes, providing access to markets, technology,” Bisaria said. “They were meant to be a transformation of Indian agriculture to modern conditions.”
There is basically a good faith dialogue being undertaken by the government with the farmers, Bisaria said. But what has been polluting the situation is some activity from Khalistani separatists “who really don’t want to indulge in an effort to try and understand the issue,” he added.
Trudeau had said back in 2018 that Canada won’t support these Sikh separatists, who Indian leaders say represent fringe interests and are in the minority among Sikhs.
Bisaria called India the “pharmacy of the world” that has brought “vaccine internationalism” to the fore, given its vaccine-producing capabilities and the country’s recognition of its global responsibility. India now has over 60 percent of the world’s vaccine manufacturing capacity.
While multilateralism and globalization have benefited India, Bisaria said that going forward, India is looking at reforming multilateralism.
“The argument from India is that the current global governance systems don’t answer the needs of 2021. They answer the need of 1945, and what we need to do is get together, and with a consensus, reform these multilateral structures,” Bisaria said.
India is a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, with its term ending in 2022, and its health minister, Dr. Harsh Vardhan, chairs the executive board of the World Health Organization.
Modi and Trudeau reaffirmed their common interests in a free and open Indo-Pacific in their Feb. 10 call.
“The Indo-Pacific is here to stay, as a concept as well as a geography, and therefore we all need to recognize it and deal with it in multiple ways,” Bisaria said.
In the face of China’s belligerence, India has long been seen as a counterweight for Canada. Foreign policy analysts have urged Canada to place greater emphasis on the Indo-Pacific.
About 1.9 million Canadians are of Indian heritage. India is Canada’s 9th-largest export market and 10th-largest trading partner overall. Canada’s largest exports to India are natural resource and agricultural products.
But going forward, Bisaria said that focusing on the economic agenda with more joint ventures in tech can lead to a “great deal of positive collaboration” between the two nations.
Bisaria cited the example of India’s Digit Insurance startup, which is backed by Canadian billionaire Prem Watsa’s Fairfax group. Digit Insurance, a fintech powerhouse, is a unicorn—valued at over US$1 billion.
India provides a huge market for companies with good ideas so that they can scale up, Bisaria said. Canadian entrepreneurs have long been adept at starting up companies, but the problem has always been scaling up more of them.
India’s human capital has been known to be a backbone of tech ecosystems around the world, including Canada. Indian IT giant Infosys is expanding in Calgary with the promise of 500 new jobs over the next three years and doubling its current Canadian workforce to 4,000 by 2023, according to the Calgary Herald.
The two countries have much in common, both being free-market democracies and having deep family and historical ties as Commonwealth brethren.
Bisaria said deepening the bonds between Canada and India is a “win-win partnership.”