Kasi Rao is President and CEO of the Canada-India Business Council
Diwali, the Indian festival of lights, this year has been more than a celebration – it is turning into an unusually strong opportunity to boost Canada's trade and innovation relationship with India.
Just two days before the festival began, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was one of the featured speakers at the Canada-India Business Council's annual Diwali gala in Toronto on Oct. 17. There, he was joined by Harinder Takhar, chief executive of Paytm Labs, part of India's largest mobile payments platform. Their appearance together is emblematic of the increasingly positive direction of business relations between Canada and India.
Paytm reached a milestone earlier this year by signing up 200 million mobile wallet users in India. What's less known is that the fast-growing digital company has located its research arm in Toronto – a deliberate choice for the emerging digital giant.
Paytm attracted more than 50 leading-edge researchers to its Toronto office because of the strong natural connections between Canadian and Indian business. As a global innovator, the company chose Canada because its innovation culture is in line with Paytm's own aspirations.
It's a fitting and significant time to recognize the growing partnerships between Canada and India, as Canadian officials navigate through tricky, turbulent and shifting global trade relationships. We are at a moment in time in the Canada-India relationship: A strategic window has emerged and we should capitalize on it.
There's a lot at stake as we renegotiate NAFTA with an increasingly protectionist United States, tread carefully in Europe as Brexit negotiations unfold and seek to diversify and expand new markets, particularly in Asia.
This just underscores why it's an opportune moment for Canada and India to do more. For several years, Canada and India have been negotiating two important agreements that would make trade easier – a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) and a Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA).
Many rounds of talks have taken place and leaders of both countries say they want to get the deals done. Yet, despite the fact that these agreements would make it easier for Canadian companies to increase their investment in India, the agreements still await completion.
This unfinished business should be completed. India has the fastest-growing market in the world, with 1.3 billion people, a huge percentage under age 20 – a demographic dividend. GDP growth in India has been predicted to grow by 7.2 per cent this fiscal year.
It's encouraging that the Trudeau government has recognized the importance of India, identifying it as a priority market. A string of federal and provincial delegations has met with Indian counterparts and business leaders and the Prime Minister and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi have also met. There are plans for Mr. Trudeau to visit India.
Two-way trade between Canada and India was about $8-billion in 2016. Canada exported about $2.3-billion in products and materials to India in the first half of this year and imported about $2.1-billion.
That may sound impressive, but there's huge room for growth – compare our India trade with the nearly $2-billion that crosses the Canada-U.S. border every day. There are more than 400 Canadian companies with a presence in India already and more than 1,000 that are actively pursuing business in the Indian market.
It's in the national interests of both Canada and India to move forward now to boost trade and business ties.
Over the past two years, Air Canada launched direct flights between Toronto and New Delhi, Toronto to Mumbai and Vancouver to New Delhi. It's more than convenient and more than symbolic – there's a "brain chain" between Canada and India that's getting stronger and people in both countries are better off as it grows.