It also comes as the federal government emerges from its three-year diplomatic freeze with China after Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig were recently returned unharmed to Canada. They spent more than 1,000 days in Chinese jails in what is widely seen as retaliation for the RCMP’s arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou on a US extradition warrant in 2018.

Canada is seeking to reduce its economic dependence on China and to diversify into new Asian markets. It recently launched formal trade negotiations with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations – known as ASEAN – a 10-country bloc that includes the Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand.

The Liberal government’s November 23 Speech from the Throne recognized this priority when it said: “A changing world demands an adaptation and a broadening of diplomatic engagement. Canada will continue to work with key allies and partners, while making deliberate efforts to deepen partnerships in the Indo-Pacific and the Arctic.

International Trade Minister Mary Ng discussed the possible deal with her Indian counterpart, Piyush Goyal, last summer in Rome at a G20 meeting.

“India and Canada, absolutely, I think they have opportunities to deepen our trade and trade relationship,” Ng said in an interview.

Canada began trade negotiations with India over a decade ago under the Conservative government of Stephen Harper. The on-off process came to a halt again in 2018, as Canada was in the midst of its intense renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement with the United States and Mexico at the behest of the United States. former US President Donald Trump.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau paid a controversial visit to India in February 2018, where he and his family came under heavy criticism in their country for wearing traditional Indian clothes.

Gaur ignored any suggestion that Trudeau rubbed his country badly, saying the need to focus on the United States and Mexico was understood.

None of this, he said, diminishes India’s interest in doing business with Canada with the goal of increasing the $ 12.8 billion in annual bilateral trade between the two countries.

This has made Canada one of the priority countries for India’s “early harvest” trade strategy, which is a real stepping stone to accelerate progress towards broader free trade agreements. It is about continuing partial progress in reducing tariffs on certain goods and services while leaving more difficult questions unanswered for more comprehensive free trade agreements to come.

“We are trying to formalize an agreement on the areas where the differences are the least important and we continue to discuss some of the areas where there are the most differences,” said Gaur.

India’s pursuit of trade deals comes as many countries, including Canada, take stock of their position with China amid growing human rights concerns.

Like the Chinese leader, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also been widely criticized for perpetuating human rights violations, including in a September Human Rights Watch report that accused his government of subjecting critics to surveillance, politically motivated prosecutions, harassment, online trolling, tax raids. and the closure of activist groups.

Gaur suggested that Canada and India can build on a common trait neither share with China: their common law legal heritage inherited from Britain.

“Parliamentary democracies have a better understanding of each other’s system. There has to be more trust between them, ”said Gaur. “This level of familiarity, this confidence that it is a country with the rule of law, it is a democratic country, is a very strong motivation for many people to see India as a potential trading partner.”

Gaur said China will remain an “important trading partner for everyone” given its massive manufacturing capabilities and the size of its market.

“But diversifying and making more connections usually shouldn’t be seen in the context of limiting your relationship with someone else,” he said in an interview at the British High Commission. India in Ottawa.

Ng, for his part, said that “Canada always pursues its trade on the basis of Canadian values ​​and interests which are guided first and foremost by Canadian interests.”

The Business Council of Canada, which represents the most powerful business leaders in Canadian businesses, is also very optimistic about India and is researching the possible benefits of an expanded business relationship.

Trevor Kennedy, director of trade and international policy for the council, said India is a “difficult country to negotiate with” because it is a federation of broad regional interests. But its size and high level of growth means Canada needs to make a concerted effort, noting that others are pursuing deals with India.

“Whether it’s the rise of protectionism in the United States or a new version of China, big markets like India are really essential because they offer us alternatives,” Kennedy said.

“We don’t want to be left behind if our major trading partners move forward. “

Besides agricultural products and natural resources (uranium is a key Canadian source of energy for Indian nuclear reactors), Kennedy said the potential for growth in financial services between the two countries is significant. He cited increased investment by the Canada Pension Plan and companies like Manulife.

This week, a delegation of 40 Indian information technology companies toured Canada, making stops in the Maritimes, Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa and Waterloo, Ontario.

“The Canadian government has invested heavily in areas like artificial intelligence and machine learning. And now is the time to reap the rewards of scaling up, partnering with Indian IT companies, ”said Gaur.

Behind-the-scenes work between government negotiators is well advanced, Gaur said, especially following the last virtual meeting of trade officials.

“They shared position papers,” and both sides get a “better understanding of each other’s position,” Gaur said.

India hopes to have Canada’s response in the coming weeks, hopefully before Christmas, he said, “because our political leaders are pushing so hard.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on November 28, 2021.

Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press