India-Canada relations are founded on shared values of democracy and pluralism. They are further strengthened through expanding diplomatic engagement and one of the fastest growing Indian diaspora in the world. India and Canada have a unique relationship which has seen enormous growth in recent years. The Pandemic has thrown new challenges as well as opportunities for the two countries to work together. Against this backdrop, the Ananta Aspen Centre held a digital session on “Charting the future of India – Canada Relations” with H.E. Ajay Bisaria, High Commissioner of India to Canada chaired by Dr. Naushad ForbesCo – Chairman, Forbes Marshall; Chairman, Ananta Aspen Centre.

The main weapon for this pandemic that both countries have and across the world is the vaccine. Today, India is in the middle of the largest vaccination drive in the world with 235 million vaccines being delivered or administered into the arms of Indians and Canada is moving at a similarly high pace. It is more than 26 million vaccines in the arms of Canadians but given the population of 38 million more than 62 percent have had at least one vaccine so far.

Over the last year or so the public health crisis has been the primary preoccupation and much of the conversation has been about this. There was talk of a joint Indo-Canadian vaccine being developed so a company called Providence therapeutics in Calgary has collaborated in the vaccine capital of the world that is Hyderabad with a company called Biological E to jointly develop a vaccine which is now in phase 3 trials in India which is being also registered and applied for in Canada and the government of India and the Ministry of Health have already reserved 300 million of the vaccines. This collaboration will produce for use in India. This speaks to the kind of collaboration India have with Canada which has accelerated from March 2020.

Both countries have engaged closely and have intense conversations about the India Canada air corridor but currently, flights are suspended after the second wave in India till the 21st of June. Both countries are hoping that this corridor rapidly becomes normal. 

In the initial phases India lived up to its role as the pharmacy of the world by sending hydroxychloroquine, paracetamol when it was required by Canada and other countries. On 10 February 2021 the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a call to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and discussed the possibility of India sending vaccines.  India agreed and have sent 500000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to Canada on 3rd March that was when things were the second wave was still a little far away. India continued this collaboration even during the second wave. India saw a surge of support and solidarity from Canada when India went through a tough phase.

There was a good deal of medical supplies and medicines that were delivered by the Canadian red cross on behalf of the Canadian government. Several planes came in to make a special contribution to helping with the second wave and there was a huge surge from the Indo-Canadian community.

The India – Canada relationship have a strategic partnership in place since 2015 when Indian Prime Minister Modi visited Canada. The relationship have accelerated even more in 2019 and both governments in India and Canada came back with renewed mandates and decided to reset the relationship even further so it was being called Trudeau 2.0 talking to Modi 2.0. After the new government came in, there was a talk of a more pragmatic phase of engagement and moving with a strong focus on the economic partnership, and the strategic partnership between India and Canada. Investments have been made particularly by Canadian portfolio investors and investment firms.  It was about five billion dollars in 2014-15 and it has risen to more than 10 times to about in the range of 50 to 60 billion dollars today.

Now India have about 600 Canadian companies which are active about a thousand companies doing with business with India but it’s a two-way corridor so in Canada there are about 100 good companies from India in sectors like information technology, pharmaceuticals and so on. Trade also hit a very important milestone even though it continues to be low. It was 10 billion dollars in goods and services and India has been exporting pharmaceuticals, steel pipes, diamonds, seafood, rice and even auto components. 

India has an economic exchange with a country of 38 million people of over 100 billion dollars. India is now having conversations with Canada on a comprehensive economic partnership agreement and also talking of an early harvest agreement. India received an FDI of 80 over billion dollars and much of it came from Canada even at a time when global FDI was diminishing. The largest Investor in India today globally happens to be a Canadian company which is Brookfield having a portfolio of 20 billion dollars.

Given a special depth to the economic partnership one very special feature of the India Canada partnership is the Indo-Canadians diaspora. There are more than 1.6 million Indo-Canadians and they give a special meaning and a special blast to the relationship in multiple ways. Indo-Canadian heritage have had in every conceivable sector, whether it’s politics, business, economics, academia, in science etc.

Both countries have the opportunity to co-create a strong startup ecosystem by enriching resource pool and common linkage to further bring in big investments and take the bilateral relationship forward.

This digital session was a part of a series on “Ambassador Series”

Please watch the full session on YouTube