“Our relationship has been taken to a new high after PM Modi’s visit”
Interview with Canadian High Commissioner to India
Introduction: In an interview in which he articulated a range of bilateral issues with a great degree of fluency, Canada’s High Commissioner to India, Mr Nadir Patel, opens up to India Empire’s Editor and Publisher Sayantan Chakravarty, and Assistant Editor Misha Singh. Mr Patel who is of Indian origin says that he looks forward to what is an exciting period in Canada-India relationships. In the past he has served as Canada’s Consul General in Shanghai between 2009 and 2011. He was also part of the team that helped launch the Commission of Inquiry into the bombing of Air India Flight 182. In an earlier capacity as Canada’s Chief Air Negotiator, Mr Patel travelled to 35 countries over three years and negotiated 43 international airspace treaties
It is indeed interesting that the Government of Canada chose to appoint an Indian origin diplomat as the country’s High Commissioner to India. At a time when the Indian Prime Minister’s engagement with the Indian Diaspora across the world, including in Canada, has been very vigorous and focused, we see this appointment as a very strategic one. Your comments please
My appointment here was first and foremost because I am Canadian and I am a diplomat. Being of Indian heritage and speaking the language are assets, and I think they reflect Canada’s diversity and multiculturalism. There are things that Canada and India have in common. In India we have a diverse geography, we are multiethnic, multi linguistic, we have different faiths within a single country. Canada is very much like that. Having the diversity in Canada is an asset, we can leverage that. You do not have to be a part of the Indian Diaspora in Canada to do an excellent job here as High Commissioner. My predecessors have done a superb job. But if there is an opportunity to leverage language, knowledge of culture and the country as an asset to further advance relationships, then why not. So from that perspective, it has been very strategic, not necessarily by design. But certainly it is an asset.
The other element is being part of the community. When my appointment was announced there was an overwhelming level of support from the community itself. I appreciate that very much. But it also brings one additional level of responsibility. Responsibility to succeed not only as a High Commissioner for Canada which is my first and foremost focus, but also the responsibility to succeed as someone who has an Indian heritage and does a really good job and helps to alleviate the relationship even further. In my view, every one that has links to India whether it is a business person, Government official or a member of the diaspora—they are also ambassadors in this relationship between Canada and India. So as much as I am an ambassador, I am also an ambassador in a different line as well, and I would like to use this opportunity to step up and alleviate things.
What are the priority areas for Canada in India? Would they take into account the much publicized Make in India programme?
Our priorities include an ongoing focus on trade and investment. Within trade and investment there are a lot of areas of focus including education, innovation around science and technology, energy, clean energy, renewable energy to name just a few. Make in India campaign is something that we fully support. The idea of economic reforms to revitalize the manufacturing sector, attract foreign investment, bolster the output using a labour force that is young with low cost as a competitive advantage—that is something we are very much in sync with. There are a couple of things that link up to Canada. First of all, we have about 600 Canadian companies doing business in India or with India out of which 300 of them have some kind of a physical presence here, including manufacturing operation and job creation as a result of that. We are feeding into the Make in India initiative and we are working with Canadian companies to invest more here, just as we are working with Indian companies to invest in Canada as well. We are also negotiating a Free Trade Agreement between India and Canada which I think has the potential to further support the Make in India programme. It will provide an opportunity for goods to be manufactured at lower cost and then exported back to Canada at lower cost through that Free Trade Agreement. We are also negotiating an Investment Protection Agreement that also feeds directly into the Make in India campaign because it is an opportunity for private additional investment in India’s manufacturing sector in support of Make in India. So, we want Canadian companies to open up new plants here to take advantage of the Make in India campaign. Having this investment agreement will stimulate new investment here, so that will be very important.
And then lastly, it is great to have the Make in India campaign which is about creating new jobs through manufacturing. But one of the areas that you have to support is a skilled workforce. So, in addition to Make in India, we are also supporting Skilling India through very extensive educational linkages, including Indian technical vocational skills that support the Make in India jobs that will be created through additional investment. So, we are fully supportive. We are engaged at different levels. And we see the growth potential quite significantly.
When engaging with India, what role do Canadian stakeholders such as provinces and territories, as well as civil society, play along with the Government of Canada?
We work very closely with our partners and stakeholders. For example if you take the provinces and the provincial Governments, we actually have representatives of the province of Alberta, Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia here in India. Some of them are co-located at our embassy. So we work very much together to promote trade and investment and other linkages. So that’s very important. In terms of civil society, we work with other organizations, associations and stakeholders whether it is trade, or beyond trade, like arts and culture, and sports to name a few. So we work very closely and hand-in-hand. You talk about priorities. We focus on trade and investment but what we are trying to do is also ramp up other areas of the relationship. The people-to-people linkages are created through art and culture, film and television, sports and other things like that. I think it is very critical to have a balanced relationship and we work with partners and stakeholders quite extensively that help advance other areas as well.