In a gesture of camaraderie which India has amplified as a cornerstone of its foreign policy for nations in need of assistance during these times of crisis, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi has assured his Canadian counterpart Justin Trudeau that New Delhi would leave no stone unturned to supply Canada with vaccines to combat the Covid-19 pandemic. This comes as a result of Canada potentially facing a short supply of the vaccine.
India operates on the principle of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” – the world is one family and Trudeau and Canada are the latest beneficiaries of this doctrine. This is the tenet of India’s foreign policy outreach.
Consignment after consignment of the valuable vaccine has been shipped to all parts of the world thanks to the directives of the Modi administration which is also involved in a fight to control the pandemic and lower infection levels at home, not to mention being the architects of a mammoth vaccine roll out to a population of a billion plus citizens. But through this domestic assignment India has time to assess the global situation and address it.
As Modi said in an official tweet after his call with Trudeau, “Was happy to receive a call from my friend @JustinTrudeau. Assured him that India would do its best to facilitate supplies of COVID vaccines sought by Canada.”
According to reports by Reuters, Trudeau and Modi talked “about India’s significant efforts in promoting vaccine production and supply, which have provided vital support to countries around the world,” a statement from Trudeau’s office said, adding that the two of them “agreed to work together on access to vaccines.”
Modi’s assurances to assist Canada with the vaccine comes against the fact that last week, Trudeau said that Canada would succeed in inoculating its population despite “momentary disruptions” in vaccine supply and reiterated that every Canadian seeking a shot would be vaccinated by the end of September.
Thus far, Canada has recorded over 20,000 deaths and more than 810,000 cases of COVID-19, and many provinces have reimposed restrictions to combat a second wave of the pandemic.
The irony behind Trudeau’s approach to India is not lost given that roughly two months ago the Canadian premier had made committed a diplomatic faux pas by commenting on the protests by Indian farmers against the government’s reform of the farm laws. There is no doubt that Trudeau’s actions were brought about by internal maneuverings by certain domestic groups in Canada with alternative agendas on India.
At an online event to commemorate the 551st birth anniversary of Guru Nanak, Trudeau stated that Canada would “Always be there to defend the rights of peaceful protests… I would be remiss if I didn’t start by recognising the news coming out of India about the protests by farmers. The situation is concerning, and we are all very worried about family and friends. I know that’s the reality for many of you… We believe in the importance of dialogue and that’s why we’ve reached out through multiple means directly to the Indian authorities to highlight our concerns.”
Following New Delhi’s gesture of goodwill, it would behove the Canadian authorities to take a long, hard look at re-establishing ties with India which, at the very best, has flattered to deceive. This is unfortunate considering that the two countries are culturally interlinked on many levels.
The Indian diaspora makes up for at least 3 percent of the Canadian population. They are represented in federal Parliament and provincial legislatures. In the present House of Commons – which has a strength of 338 members – the Trudeau administration swore in 22 MP’s of Indian origin. The Canadian premier’s ministerial team has three male and one female representative MPs of Indian origin. There is Anita Anand, Navdeep Bains, Bardish Chagger and Harjit Sajjan.
It is time for Canada to work towards a mutually agreeable set of like-for-like policies and agreements which would put the missed opportunities back on track. The pandemic has resulted in a new world order and India is striding out as the flagbearer of this change. Not to mention that New Delhi’s actions have spoken louder than its words. The mammoth levels of medical assistance that India has pushed to all corners of the world during this pandemic being a demonstrated fact of goodwill and cooperation in times of crisis.
India Global Business had earlier reported that more than 5.5 million doses of the vaccine have already been distributed so far under India’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy – including the UAE, Kuwait and Bahrain in the Gulf – and to countries like Brazil and Morocco, India further plans to gift the vaccine doses to Oman, CARICOM countries, Nicaragua and Pacific Island states. This is in addition to the 10 million vaccine doses it plans to supply to Africa and 1 million doses to UN health workers under GAVI (Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation) COVAX facility. Commercial exports of the coronavirus vaccine are planned for Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Canada (yes, Canada!) Mongolia, and other countries.
India is currently the global hub for vaccine manufacturing while Canada does not yet have a vaccine manufacturing facility of its own and is reliant on foreign supplies. In added developments, Pfizer Inc and Moderna Inc have reduced the number of COVID-19 vaccines being delivered to Canada this month.
The pandemic has given Canada the opportunity to re-energise its trade and diplomatic ties with India. It is time for Ottawa to shake of the dust from the Canada India Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) trade deal that was put into the closet, after 10 rounds of negotiations over seven years. The negotiations commenced in 2010 after former premier Stephen Harper’s visit to India and a forecast for a GDP gain of $6-16 billion was made for Canada. The government in a public statement in the following year’s throne speech declared its intention to complete negotiations on the deal in 2013. It has been a no-go thus far.
A similar tale surrounds the BIPPA arrangement. India came close to sealing it off in 2014 but a draft BIT (bilateral investment treaty) was introduced that weakened provisions like investor-to-state dispute settlement mechanism and asked all partner countries to renegotiate such existing treaties. This put Canada in a spot as it had already spent substantial energy and time in negotiations and did not want to protract anymore. The opportunities that are in front of these two countries are manifold but somewhere in the background there is the pressing need to dial up the warmth in Indo-Canadian diplomatic vibes. It is time to move past the semantics and steady the alliance.
Trudeau’s tenure at the helm may not have brought home a good report card with India, but this does not mean that the possibilities of success are limited, rather they are endless provided he does not pay heed to dissenting theories and opinions internally. India has illustrated that it is a friend in deed and a friend to count on in need as well.