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Context: The third round of India-Canada Track 1.5 Dialogue, comprising senior diplomats, officials and independent experts, will be addressed by Canadian Foreign Minister and India’s External Affairs Minister  on a virtual platform.

More on news:

  • The Ministers will deliberate on and define the role of India and Canada in the post-COVID-19 world. 
  • This will be followed by a discussion on the strategic partnership linking the two countries, the new geo-economics of the Indo-Pacific and digital cooperation, particularly in the areas of fintech and artificial intelligence.

Think tank diplomacy

  • The 1.5 Track Dialogue has been piloted by two think tanks — Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations and Canada’s Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI). 
  • It creates a template for a judicious merger of government to government (G2G) diplomacy with public diplomacy, and the maturing role of think tanks in the conduct of foreign policy today.
  • Track 1.5 denotes a situation in which official and non-official actors work together to resolve conflicts. 

India- Canada bilateral relations

  • Political relations:
    • Foreign Minister’s visit to Canada in December 2019 initiated a new phase, consolidating mutual understanding. 
    • There have been more frequent interactions this year, including two virtual meetings between the Prime Ministers and four meetings between the trade ministers conducted digitally.
  • Energy cooperation: 
    • India and Canada achieved a major breakthrough in the area of civil nuclear energy. 
    • The two reached an unprecedented agreement on civil nuclear cooperation. 
  • Strategic relations: The new government in Ottawa preferred to be more cautious on sensitive bilateral issues, and more receptive to New Delhi’s view that the larger geopolitical shifts justified a closer convergence of national perspectives. 
    • Tensions in China-Canada ties:
      • Common challenges of the COVID-19 era caused friction between Canada and China. 
      • The arrest of Huawei’s chief financial officer in Canada in 2018 and the ‘hostage diplomacy’ practised by Beijing which arrested two Canadian nationals, has caused huge stress in Canada-China relations.
      • This opened the door to a closer relationship with India, with Canadian sympathy for India’s troubles with China’s aggressive intrusions across the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh since April 2020.
  • Economic and technological cooperation
    • Canada-India merchandise trade exceeded C$10 billion in 2019.
    • Canada’s cumulative investment, including foreign direct investment and by Canadian pension funds, is a substantive C$55 billion, according to diplomatic sources. 
  • People to people contact
    • Indian students are increasingly being educated in Canada, and a quarter million of them spent an estimated $5 billion in tuition fees and other expenses last year, a solid contribution to the Canadian economy. 
    • The Indian diaspora in Canada is now 1.6 million-strong, representing over 4% of the country’s total population. 

Significance of India-Canada relations:

  • The principal areas of bilateral cooperation are best defined by five Es: Economy, Energy, Education, Entertainment and Empowerment of women. 
  • The digital domain holds immense potential, given Canada’s proven assets in technology — especially its large investment in Artificial Intelligence, innovation and capital resources. 
    • India’s IT achievements, expanding digital payment architecture and policy modernisation open new avenues.
  • Strategic factor:
    • Developments concerning the Indo-Pacific escalating discontent against Beijing’s aggressive behaviour, 
    • Strengthening of the Quad and 
    • The growing interest of France, Netherlands and Germany to be active players in the region — are of immense relevance to Ottawa. 
    • Thus, the Canadian administration gave due importance to Asia, recognising “the rapid emergence of the global South and Asia and the need to integrate these countries into the world’s economic and political system.

Concerns: 

  • Khalistan activism in Canada and the it’s inability to assuage Indian concerns regarding the same has made New Delhi apprehensive of its ties with Ottawa. 
    • These developments diverted attention away from core issues related to cooperation in the fields of energy, innovation and the pending trade agreements between India and Canada.
  • There is a lack of a clear plan of action and policy on the part of Ottawa to effectively engage India. 
  • Canada remains an insignificant trading partner for India. In 2017, compared to other North American countries, Indian exports to Canada stood at just over US$2 billion, behind the US and Mexico.

For India to overcome the longstanding hiatus in its relations with Canada, it must divert its attention away from politically contentious issues. It is, therefore, useful to develop a new framework of cooperation that is more pragmatic and emphasises on mutually beneficial areas, such as trade, where opportunities lie and much work remains to be done.

Image source: Canadian Media