Commentary by: Muhammad Ali in Toronto, ON

I’m the child of Indian immigrants and, for my family, ‘Indian Standard Time’ is a term used to determine that even when we are running late, we are arriving with the party in full-swing. In the case of trade negotiations between Canada and India, we have reached Indian Standard Time.

Our two countries have long had a ‘complex’ bilateral relationship. While the previous Canadian government was able to successfully end a long-simmering nuclear dispute, allowing for the sale of Canadian uranium to India, it was unable to complete the free trade negotiations started back in 2010. Several cabinet ministers have visited India over the past two years, in addition to visits by various provincial premiers and big-city mayors to encourage more bilateral trade and investment between their respected jurisdictions.

But progress remains slow on a formal trade agreement.

Part of the reason for this slow progress is the lack of high-level discussions between Prime Minister Trudeau and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. With Trudeau visiting China twice and hosting President Xi Jinping in Canada, Indian officials may wonder how high of a priority trade with India is for the Canadian government. China and India are regional rivals economically, militarily and politically. They want assurances Canada cares and understands India.

Trudeau experiences a high degree of popularity amongst India’s population and within the Indo-Canadian community, an important political force in Canadian politics. To appease his key voter base and the interests of Canadian businesses, Trudeau will need to maximize his impact during his trip to India.

The purpose of this trip will be threefold: First, to quell any concerns Prime Minister Modi may have with the priority Canada has assigned to its relationship with China; second, to address any issues arising from the differences between the Indian and Indo-Canadian diasporas; and lastly, on issues impacting trade negotiations.

It will be part of Trudeau’s task to get Modi’s focus on the urgency and benefits of stronger trade ties with a trade agreement and use his popularity and charisma to show Modi that his commitment to improving our bilateral relationship is real and not calculated to only shore up domestic support.

South Asians in Canada hold tremendous political influence reflected by the appointment of four Sikh-Canadian ministers in important portfolios, and nearly two dozen MPs and Senators currently serving our country. Indo-Canadians have become engaged citizens who are shaping industry, culture and policy for Canadians. Addressing the delicate relationship between the Indian and Indo-Canadian diasporas will aide Trudeau to move negotiations forward.

Finally, Trudeau will be looking to address core economic issues such as agricultural exports to India, access to natural resources and migrant skilled workers coming to Canada. At the moment, India has raised tariffs on pulse seed imports, the majority of which comes from Saskatchewan. Canada produces a third of the worlds pulse crops (ex. lentils, peas, chickpeas) and this will have a ripple effect throughout the Canadian agricultural industry.

India and Canada can benefit from greater mobility of technology-trained workers, such as software engineers, between both countries. With the Waterloo-Toronto corridor and Bangalore-Hyderabad tech-centres hosting a thriving technology sector, a trade agreement would be able to enhance a bilateral ecosystem for companies to further develop.

Of most importance for Trudeau will be securing environmental and labour standards that have become core negotiating principles for this government. Canada’s leverage to securing these standards is giving India its first free-trade access to a Western market, including Canadian businesses that have access to North America, the EU, several countries in South America and potentially 10 Pacific-coast nations. Amidst the populist rhetoric to protectionism and anti-trade, Trudeau is positioning Canada as a beacon of economic opportunity that India would benefit from tremendously.

This trip to India, if successful, may cement Trudeau’s ability to deliver on his promise to diversify Canadian market access and reduce our dependence on the Americans, who continue to play Russian roulette with NAFTA discussions. Given the NAFTA risks, Canada needs this trade deal more than India does — to which Trudeau must move quickly before he loses any leverage in these talks.

This piece was republished under arrangement with iPolitics.

Published in Politics

by Jane Lytvynenko (@JaneLytv) in Kiev, Ukraine

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and Stephen Harper signed a free-trade agreement between the two countries Tuesday. Meeting in Chelsea, Quebec, the two politicians solidified the deal which is largely seen as a political gesture of goodwill from Canada while Ukraine faces a war with Russia and a nation-wide recession.

The finalization of the free trade agreement comes months before a federal election campaign is set to begin in Canada. Over 1.2 million Canadians of Ukrainian descent live in the country, making for the largest diaspora in the world outside of Ukraine itself.

The agreement will drop nearly all tariffs on Ukrainian imports and 86 per cent of tariffs on Canadian goods. Five years in the making, both Ukrainian and Canadian politicians are excited about the support.

This is increasing economic opportunity for Canadians and Ukrainians and the ability to create jobs in both our countries,said Harper during the announcement.

This is a step toward helping Ukrainians realize the future that they want,he said. Ukrainians do not want a future based on oppression and a Soviet past. Ukrainians want a Western future, a future of prosperity and democracy. In completing this trade agreement we are taking one small step in competing that transition.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Ive never noticed Canadian products here before. I would buy them to show my support if I knew.[/quote]

Politically, the deal is meant to be a gesture to Russia and the rest of the world of Canadas faith that Ukraine can clean up corruption and get back on its feet. But Ukrainians are not as optimistic about the agreement, which is yet to be implemented. Speaking to New Canadian Media in the streets of Kiev, Ukraines capital, many were unsure about concrete benefits of the agreement.

Small, but symbolic

You could say its a small step forward but its a symbolic one. I doubt it will make a difference,” said Oleg Sokolov. He said he understood the political significance on top of the other help Canada already provides to Ukraine but does not know what, if any, benefits it will bring.

Its an interesting situation but I dont know which of our products will interest Canada,” said Sokolov.

Canada will get duty-free access to meats, grains, canola oil, processed foods and animal feeds, according to the press release issued by the Canadian government. In turn, Ukraine will benefit from forestry and industrial goods, and fish products which have grown in price since the annexation of Crimea.

Political significance

The negotiations for the agreement began in 2010.

This deal has been in the works for longer than our government has been ruling,” said Egor, who works for a financial institution in Kiev and asked his last name not be published. It has a political significance and Im glad Canada is still helping Ukraine but I dont know if it will affect day-to-day life. I guess we will have to wait and see.

The Canadian PMO says trade between two countries averaged $347 million in 201113. It is expected to increase by 19 per cent as a result of the deal and Ukraine could see an additional $23.7 million in exports. Ukraines current annual GDP is $181.71 billion.

The potential increase in the amount of trade did not impress Sokolov, who said he is in the know about Ukrainian business.

It would be a good number for a company but when it comes to a country, that's a very small number [of trade],” he said. When put in the context of Ukraines GDP, that number does not make a difference.

Ukrainians also wonder whether they have products that interest Canada on a larger scale and where the projected 19 per cent grown will come from during time of war.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The agreement will drop nearly all tariffs on Ukrainian imports and 86 per cent of tariffs on Canadian goods.[/quote]

Canadas a big country and have their own products and trades, Im not sure what Ukraine has to offer,” said Lyudmila Mihailik. Ive never noticed Canadian products here before. I would buy them to show my support if I knew.

The trade agreement is the latest of Canadian measures helping Ukraine. Earlier this year Canada provided a $200 million low-interest loan to Ukraine for a total of $400 million in financial help over the last two years. Its aim is to help stabilize the country, which is about $50 billion in debt. Canada also provided non-lethal military supplies to Ukraine and participated in the training of its new police force.

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Published in Economy

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