Mr Ed Fast, Canada's International Trade Minister, just completed his third visit to India during the last three years – twice as an MP earlier and once (recently from November 3-9) as a Minister.
He said ministerial visits will be more frequent as Canada is steadily increasing its engagements with India.
He spoke to Business Line in Delhi last week on issues including the progress of the India-Canada Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) negotiations (Excerpts from the interview).
What do you want to achieve during this trip?
I want to deepen the trade and investment relationship between the two countries. After our government was elected in 2006, we adopted a global commerce strategy with focus on some priority markets, including India.
India, with a market of 1.2 billion consumers, represents a significant opportunity for Canada. India also can benefit from a deeper relationship with Canada.
Our respective Prime Ministers had committed last year to increase bilateral trade from $4.2 billion to $15 billion by 2015. That is ambitious. The current level of trade is modest when you compare India's population and Canada's natural resources and our expertise in areas including life sciences and information and communication technologies.
India's plan to double the number of students attending secondary institutions by 2020 will require construction of a thousand universities and some 50,000-odd colleges. Since Canada is a world leader in education, we can help. Education is a very critical component of what we are seeking to do in India. Canada has a robust auto industry as does India and we want to take advantage of the opportunities that India's new National Manufacturing Policy offers.
When will the CEPA negotiations be concluded and what are the areas of Canada's interest?
The negotiations are making progress. The next round of talks will be in December. We aim to complete the negotiations in 2013. Financial services is a priority area for us and we are looking for broader market access for our agricultural goods, wood products, pulp and paper, fish and sea food, beef and pork as well as progress in terms of Canadian investment in India's infrastructure sector.
Foreign Direct Investment from Canada to India is less compared to Indian investments in Canada. Do you have plans to correct this imbalance?
That is why we are in the throes of completing a Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA). India's business environment, regulatory and legal systems are unfamiliar. Many Canadian companies interested in doing business with India are still overly cautious because of some barriers to investment.
FIPA will have a clear set of rules on making investments and on dispute settlement. We can remove many trade and investment barriers if we complete FIPA and CEPA. These will provide the kind of assurance that our companies need in order to invest in each others' economies.
India has voiced its concern about the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), saying that it could undermine global rules on intellectual property. Since Canada is a party to ACTA, do you think it will cause problems during the CEPA negotiations, especially concerning generic drugs?
Canada is a party to ACTA because it is very important to us that innovation, research and entrepreneurs are key drivers of our economic growth. If you don't protect these, you are not going to attract the investment to build the kind of innovation and drive economic growth.
I am hopeful that India and Canada will be able to negotiate an acceptable CEPA.
The CEPA's focus is to enable India and Canada to take our trade relationship to a new level. It would be a mistake for me to presume what will be discussed and what directions those negotiations will take.
Can you elaborate on the bilateral talks on the nuclear energy sector?
We have negotiated a nuclear cooperation agreement, and as a last part, many administrative arrangements have to be put in place. There are some wrinkles that need to be ironed out. Canada needs to be satisfied that use of uranium will be done in a safe manner.
We want to make sure that we comply with our non-proliferation agreement internationally. I am hopeful that we will be able to conclude those arrangements very soon.