François-Philippe Champagne is Canada's Minister for International Trade with over 20 years' experience working for major companies worldwide. 'India Global Business' caught up with the minister soon after the inaugural Commonwealth Trade Ministers Meeting in London recently to explore the potential of India-Canada ties within a broader multilateral context.
What is the status of the Canada-India free trade agreement?
The negotiation of the Canada-India Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) began in November 2010. Nine rounds of negotiations have been held to date; the latest of which was in March 2015. And, last fall, my predecessor, Chrystia Freeland, met with her Indian counterpart, Nirmala Sitharaman, Minister of State for Commerce and Industry, during the 3rd Ministerial Dialogue on Trade and Investment in Toronto. In early March, during my first visit to India, I met with Minister Sitharaman and we discussed the Canada-India CEPA, in view of increasing bilateral trade and investment. We also exchanged views on the way forward for a Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA.) While I cannot speak to the details of the ongoing negotiation at this time, I can confirm that I took this opportunity to highlight the benefits of signing and implementing a modern and ambitious FIPA. An FIPA would provide greater predictability and certainty for Canadian investors considering investment opportunities in India and serve to promote both India and Canada as destinations for investment. It would protect investors through the establishment of a framework of legally binding rights and obligations, while ensuring governments retain the right to regulate in the public interest. We look forward to continued work with India towards finalising the agreement.
Why has India-Canada trade remained at low levels What can help step up bilateral trade?
The fact is, between 2012 and 2016, total trade between Canada and India grew by 53 per cent. Two-way merchandise trade between Canada and India reached $8.0 billion in 2016, and bilateral trade in services rose 8.8 percent to nearly $2.2 billion in 2015, as both services exports (up 10.1 percent) and services imports increased. Canada is pursuing a number of approaches to promote trade and investment with India. Of course, this includes the negotiation of a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA). We are also pursuing the negotiation of a foreign investment promotion and protection agreement.
These agreements will help position both Canada and India as important destinations for trade and investment. They would establish a framework of legally binding rights and obligations while ensuring that governments maintain the right to regulate in the public interest. For Canada, any free trade agreement must reflect Canadian values and help to strengthen trade by providing new commercial opportunities. The Government of Canada also values the ongoing advice and commitment of the various business associations that promote the Canada-India commercial relationship with small and medium-sized businesses. During my recent trip to India, I also met with several Canadian and Indian business leaders and we discussed the impressive growth in trade and investment between our two countries. They expressed a real desire for our governments to further deepen this partnership. As International Trade minister, I also have a mandate to focus on growing trade opportunities, particularly for Canadian small and medium-sized businesses. I look forward to continuing to work with India toward that end.
Can the Commonwealth be leveraged to improve the situation?
As you may know, the UK hosted the inaugural Commonwealth Trade Ministers Meeting on March 9 and 10, 2017 in London. During this meeting, myself and my colleagues, discussed areas where Commonwealth member countries could collaborate to pursue transparent, free and fair trade relationships and to promote trade, investment and job creation in member countries. Canada enjoys a strong partnership and shared values with its Commonwealth partners, including India. The Government of Canada is firmly committed to opening new markets and to creating new sources of prosperity, and we see a lot of potential to expand our trade with India.
Which sectors will Canada welcome Indian businesses to invest in?
Priority sectors for the attraction of foreign direct investment into Canada include ICT, agri-food, automotive, aerospace, chemicals and plastics, clean tech, life sciences, and oil and gas. To ensure that Canada makes the most of every opportunity to attract global investment and the jobs that come with it, the Government of Canada is creating a new federal body, an “Invest in Canada Hub.” This new organisation will employ a dedicated high-impact sales force to promote Canada and will be supported by an increased number of Trade Commissioners focused on investment attraction in strategic markets around the world.
What are your plans for marketing Canada as an attractive centre of higher education for Indian students?
For many Indians, Canada is perceived as an attractive immigration option rather than a destination for a top-notch education. The fact that Canadian educational institutions rank with the best in the world is a bit of a secret in India and we want to change that. That is why we are reaching out to top-quality Indian students through activities like the EduCanada Undergraduate Outreach Tour and the EduCanada MBA Showcase Tour to promote our institutions and the amazing opportunities they offer. In addition, many Canadian institutions participate in a broad range of other education events across all of India.
Canada is home to some of the top universities in the world. Times Higher Education's 'World University Rankings' counts a total of 26 Canadian institutions among the world's best, including eight Canadian universities in the top 200. In addition, compared with the US and others, Canada provides more affordable study options, simpler application processes and more opportunities for permanent residency. For all of these reasons, I welcome this opportunity to spread the word about Canada's strengths in education in general, and research, development and innovation in particular. Canada is a world leader when it comes to investing in research at post-secondary institutions, ranking first among G7 nations and seventh among OECD nations. Through the recent federal budget, the Government of Canada is proposing to invest $117.6 million over eight years to create approximately 25 Research Chairs. This will attract top-tier international scholars and researchers to Canada, and enhance Canada's reputation as a global centre for innovation, science, and research excellence.
Canada and India have much in common; isn't it time the two governments took steps to forge closer ties?
Canada and India have long-standing and positive bilateral relations built upon shared traditions of democracy, inclusion and strong interpersonal connections through an Indian diaspora of more than 1.2 million in Canada. We also enjoy a Strategic Partnership underpinned by Ministerial Dialogues on Foreign Policy, Trade and Investment, Finance and Energy. The Government of Canada is committed to strengthening the bilateral relationship with India, as demonstrated by the many ministerial visits in both directions over the last few months. By deepening our commercial relationship and working together on our shared priorities, we can ensure continued growth and prosperity and offer real opportunities to our private sector stakeholders and citizens. There is a school of thought that says the Commonwealth should be re-imagined as a trade bloc. What do you think Canada believes that the Commonwealth's real added value is to help build the pillars of trade - promoting stability, predictability and rule of law in member countries. Moving forward, the Commonwealth, with its diverse group of member countries, could be a great forum for further discussions and work on elements of Canada's progressive trade agenda. As anti-globalisation and hostility to trade agreements rises, we need to ensure that the legitimate concerns of our citizens are taken seriously and addressed concretely.
Canada is currently pursuing a progressive trade agenda that ensures the benefits of trade are more widely and equitability shared between all segments of society. Canada will continue to work together with its Commonwealth partners to create the right conditions for our businesses to thrive.