India-Canada ties, which have had a roller coaster journey since Independence, are looking up again. During two high-level meetings this month, both sides discussed the possibility of tie-ups in the energy sector, mainly hydrocarbon, as civil nuclear energy talks have been held up, with both sides not willing to disclose the reasons.
If and when India manages to tie up oil and gas supply arrangements with Canada, it would perhaps be the first time it would be leaning in such a comprehensive manner on the North American continent for energy security. India is already persuading the U. S. to ease its rules so that it can begin importing shale gas. It has had supply tie-ups with PetMex, hydrocarbon behemoth of Mexico.
At a “pull-aside” meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Stephen Harper on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Mexico, preceded by an interaction in Ontario between External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna and John Baird, a more comprehensive partnership going beyond Canada’s major role in ensuring food security was discussed, said government sources.
“My perspective is that India is so far away and we don’t play on the security side,” pointed out High Commissioner of Canada Stewart Beck, while explaining the Indian Strategic Diaspora’s lack of interest in Canada.
“We have had a historical role in food security. Canada has been a big supplier of wheat, potash and lentils, and we have the capacity to supply more in this area as well as assist in agricultural efficiency and dairy herd management.
“But there can be involvement in so many ways. On the civil nuclear side, we are negotiating administrative arrangements with India,” he added, while acknowledging that Canada had not been on India’s radar for supply of oil and gas. But with high oil prices and plentiful gas, he felt both sides could sew up cost-efficient and long-term stable supply arrangements.
“We need to pay more attention to Canada. It can be a great source of energy and minerals, as well as education,” acknowledged sources in the Ministry of External Affairs. India Inc. does not realise that Canada, with its sound financial system and plentiful liquidity, can be a big source of investment.
While oil and gas is a subject for corporates to discuss, both sides have negotiated a civil nuclear agreement. But Mr. Beck said its activation has been held up because of some “sticky issues,” which he hoped would be resolved quickly.
Having partnered India in its initial decades of foray in the civil nuclear energy sector, Canada is keen to look jointly at third country markets for its 660-1,000 MW reactors. “For certain countries, that is perfect,” said Mr. Beck, but India is more focussed on supply side arrangements.
Education is another big interest area for Canada and the two sides have had five rounds of talks on a Free Trade Agreement (FTA).
All these issues will get a thorough working over when the Canadian Foreign Minister visits India late this year. By that time, Mr. Beck hoped, the two sides would have finalised the Bilateral Investment Protection Agreement, moved closer on an FTA, and put an energy security pact in place.
Keywords: India-Canada relations