Indo-Pacific cooperation and trade were at the top of the agenda as Canadian Foreign Minister met with External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar on Monday for the India-Canada Strategic Dialogue in Delhi. The visit is seen as an attempt by both sides to put bilateral ties back on track, after several turbulent years, and focused primarily on Canada’s newly released Indo-Pacific strategy that calls India an important partner. Significantly, the MEA press release made no mention of recent tensions over vandalism by suspected pro-Khalistani groups in Canada.
“India welcomed the announcement of Canada’s Indo-Pacific Strategy, given the shared vision of a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific,” the MEA said in a statement after the meeting, adding that they discussed developments in India’s neighbourhood, Ukraine and cooperation in the United Nations.
The Canadian strategy document released contains sharp words on China’s “coercive” challenge to the international rules-based order and on human rights, and in contrast says India and Canada have a “shared tradition of democracy and pluralism, a common commitment to a rules-based international system and multilateralism, mutual interest in expanding our commercial relationship and extensive and growing people-to-people connections“.
Ms. Joly’s visit is particularly significant, as she is due to visit Delhi again next month again for the G-20 Foreign Minister’s meeting and the G-20 summit later this year, but chose to travel to India for a stand-along visit expected to pave the way for a continued reset in India-Canada ties after a freeze between 2020-2022 over a number of issues including attacks on Indian-origin people and establishments by Khalistani groups in Canada, Canadian comments over India’s farmer protests and India’s cancellation of diplomatic talks in response. Prime Minister Narendra Modi met with Canadian PM Justin Trudeau in June last year, and is expected to welcome him for the G-20 summit in Delhi in September this year as well.
“2023 could become the year of India-Canada reset, given the Indo-Pacific strategy convergence, trade talks which could culminate in an Early Progress Trade Agreement [EPTA], and a number of high-level meetings this year,” former High Commissioner to Ottawa Ajay Bisaria told The Hindu when asked about the significance of the visit.
Apart from encouraging investment from Canadian funds, India is also negotiating the EPTA, ahead of a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA). According to officials, two-way Foreign Direct Investment between Canada and India is about $4.6 billion, with Canadian direct investment in India at $2.9 billion and market and institutional investment into India about $70 billion.
“From Cleantech to critical minerals and education programs, there is a demand in India for what Canadians make, and grow, and the services we provide. I look forward to my first official visit to India in order to strengthen our engagement, which is paramount to our Indo-Pacific Strategy,” Ms. Joly had said ahead of her visit to India.
The visit by the Canadian Foreign Minister comes a week after another incident of vandalism against a temple, this time the Gauri Shankar Temple in Brampton, which was defaced with anti-India slogans, which the Indian Mission in Toronto raised strongly with Canadian authorities. Last year, the MEA had protested at least three such events, issuing a statement expressing disappointment that “perpetrators of these crimes have not been brought to justice so far in Canada” despite its appeals to the Trudeau government.
In a statement denouncing the vandalism at the temple, Ms. Joly said everyone should be able to practice their faith in peace, free from violence and intimidation, and that Canadians have “a collective responsibility to denounce hateful acts, which have no place in Canada”.
Speaking about the Canadian response, MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said on Thursday that India “reaffirmed” Ms. Joly’s position and condemned the act of violence.