Nadir Patel took over as the High Commissioner of Canada to India in early 2015. An MBA from New York University, he has served his country in various capacities. He has also been Canada’s Chief Air Negotiator, travelling to 35 countries over three years and negotiating an unprecedented 43 international airspace treaties, including a groundbreaking open-skies agreement with the European Union. In this interview to Ashok Tuteja and Debdeep Mukherjee, he speaks about the enormous potential of Indo-Canadian ties.
Canada is celebrating Canada Day in a big way this year? What is so special this time around?
On 1st July, Canada celebrates its 150th anniversary. What's special about the fact is that it's our 150th birthday and if you look at the history of Canada, the first Canadians of the Indian origin actually arrived in Canada in the late 1800s from Punjab and a mix of other states. So if you look at the history of Canada, India or Indians have played a role in helping shape our country. So the first thing is the celebration of 150 years, and the second thing is that while we are in India we will celebrate the long history of Indo-Canadian people-to-people relationship.
Do you think the India-Canada economic relationship has achieved its full potential or do the two countries need to do more?
Let's first take stock of the last couple of years. The last two years saw two-way trade between India and Canada going up by 30 per cent which is around $8 billion and investment has also gone up dramatically. Investment from Canada to India is around $15 billion in last two years. More than a 1000 Canadian companies are doing business here out of which 400 have a physical presence in mainly large manufacturing and 'Make-in-India' type operations or small ones. What is important is that those numbers are growing. But I do believe we have a long way to go. We have only scratched the surface of potential. So certainly, there is scope for more. We also subscribe to PM Modi's vision of trade liberalisation and investment liberalisation. We also see a lot of value in flagship initiatives like Make in India, Digital India, Skill India and Smart Cities, and Canada or Canadian companies are very active in all of these areas. We see more growth in these initiatives in the future.
India and Canada became strategic partners in 2015. How has the relationship evolved over the past two years?
As I mentioned some of the trade highlights, we have seen enormous growth. On the nuclear front, we have announced our support for India's inclusion in the Nuclear Suppliers Group. We have started shipment of uranium as well. India is one of the largest source countries for students into Canada. All of these areas contribute to the fact that we have a strong strategic partnership.
When is the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) expected to be signed?
The negotiators continue to meet. We remain keen on completing the partnership agreement. The next round of negotiations are being scheduled in the next couple of months. All we can say is the earlier the better as we feel it is going to be beneficial for both the countries.
What is the status of the civil nuclear deal signed in 2010 between the two countries?
The nuclear cooperation agreement has been concluded and is fully operational. The administrative guidelines were also implemented. The nuclear relationship is strong and continues to grow. We also had a delegation of nuclear industrialists from Canada to India for exploring areas of cooperation.
India has often raised concerns regarding Pakistan’s role in supporting cross-border terrorism in both India and Afghanistan. How does Canada look at the security situation in South Asia?
We have made it very clear that Canada condemns all forms of terrorism and extremism. We want to see regional security and stability. We have a strong presence in Afghanistan as well and we collaborate with India. We want to see stability in Afghanistan as well.
Could you throw some light on the defence relationship between India and Canada? Is Canada ready to join hands with India under the ‘Make in India’ vision of Prime Minister Modi in the defence field?
Our Defence Minister visited India a couple of months ago. One of the topics we discussed was increasing trade in defence industry. People don't realise that Canada is the sixth largest exporter in defence products in the world but the trade in defence between India and Canada is very small. So what we are trying to do now is to ramp up defence collaboration as a result of the ministerial visit.
A controversy had erupted recently when Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh refused to meet Canadian Defence Minister Sajjan calling him a ‘Khalistan’ sympathiser.Would you like to comment on that?
Canada's relationship with Punjab is something which we value greatly. I think the Chief Minister has laid out a very strong vision for Punjab and I think Canada can help in achieving some of those objectives in areas such as healthcare or education. With respect to his comments, they were disappointing and inaccurate. Our Defence Minister made it very clear that he doesn't support the break-up of India. I think this is the best way to articulate the message.
Prime Minister Trudeau participated at an event in Toronto in May at which ‘Khalistan’ flags were raised and Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale was eulogised. Do you think this incident would impact the unprecedented upswing in bilateral relations?
I think we must keep a couple of things in mind. Our relationship is far too resilient to get sidetracked by an event like that. Two, if you look at those events you may have one or two demonstrators but there were thousand others who didn't have any of those signs or placards of any kind. So the Khalsa Day activities were about celebrating the Khalsa foundation, Baisakhi and Sikhism and vibrant community of Sikhs and our focus is on that. If any laws are broken, we will investigate. We have a very good cooperation between our security agencies as well. Of course, we are not insensitive to these issues.
When is Prime Minister Trudeau expected to visit India and what will be on the agenda?
We don't have dates as of yet. I cannot give you a window at all. But it should be late this year or early next year.
Canada ishome tonearly 1.2 million people of Indian origin, particularly from Punjab. How do you look at their contribution in the overall development ofthe country?
We have over 1.2 million Canadians of Indian origin. Around five hundred thousand are from Punjab, three hundred thousand from Gujarat and the remaining from rest of India. So it is fairly diverse. What I would essentially say is that the Indian diaspora in Canada have made significant contribution to the overall relationship due to people to people ties, through educational linkages, tourism linkages etc.
What is being done to promote people-to-people contacts between India and Canada?
Educational linkages~ in 2016, we saw 70 per cent increase in students from India to Canada. This year, we see a 200 per cent increase from last year. So student movement furthers greater people to people collaboration. Second, we see a double digit growth in tourism.
I think that helps too. Third, because of an increase in diaspora, we see friends, family members travelling from tourism perspective.
Lastly, I would like to mention, we have three non-stop flights between Canada to India ~ Delhi-Toronto, DelhiVancouver and Toronto-Mumbai. That also helps movement of people and increase links