India, Canada seek to mend fences, plan high-level visits, work on FTA

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Canada’s International Trade Minister Mary Ng in India. Photo: Twitter @CanadaIndia

There seems to be some high-level movement between India and Canada after a long hiatus, marked by political misunderstandings and some diplomatic acrimony. The visit by Canada’s International Trade Minister Mary Ng to India this month was the first in a series of ministerial-level bilateral meetings between the two countries in the months ahead, according to The Indian Express.

Ng’s visit to India was the first by a Canadian cabinet minister in over four years since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s disastrous trip in February 2018 which was marred by controversy and negative media coverage on both sides, especially over perceptions of official Canadian support and patronage to separatist Sikh elements in Canada

Marta Morgan, Deputy Minister at Global Affairs Canada, also visited India last week, and interacted with officials including Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla. Morgan serves is the seniormost bureaucrat in the Canadian foreign ministry. According to the foreign ministry, there was a “productive exchange of views on bilateral, global and regional issues of mutual interest” in these discussions.

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This could be followed by the visit of Indian Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman to Canada this spring for bilateral meetings with Canadian officials, in what can be understood as preparatory meetings to have a bilateral free trade agreement for which talks were launched some years ago.

The last major visit by an Indian cabinet minister to Canada was in December 2019, when External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar met François-Philippe Champagne, who was then Canada’s foreign minister.

There may have been additional visits in the near future, by the likes of Minister of National Defense Anita Anand, or foreign minister Melanie Joly, but those visits depend international circumstances, especially the current crisis in Ukraine, the paper said.

“Ng’s visit suggests that both India and Canada are ready to move on from whatever problems that trip created. India is gaining more economic influence in the region, as its population is set to overtake China’s within a decade. The country’s strategic importance is also rising, as the United States and its allies look for counterweights to China’s outsized influence over the region,” said a report in the Financial Post of Canada prior to the visit.

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