PM Narendra Modi likely to visit Canada in April

Expected to sign bilateral agreements to boost trade and investment. 

PM Narendra Modi PM Narendra Modi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi might visit North America in April. This time he is heading towards Canada. The details of the PM's visit are not known, but officials in the know told Business Today that his travel itinerary may include capital Ottawa and a few other important cities.

Modi had visited the US in September. US President Barack Obama reciprocated by agreeing to attend the Republic Day ceremony as chief guest. Political observers expect the two leaders to take the relationship between the two countries to the next level.    

Modi's visit to Canada during an election year - the federal elections are tentatively scheduled for 19 October - could be a masterstroke, considering the fact that Harper's Conservative Party MPs had openly supported him during the campaign leading up to the 2014 general elections in India.  

Canada has a sizeable population of people of Indian origin across British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, Qubec and Saskatchewan. During his trips to the US and Australia, Modi had received a rock star's welcome from the ethnic community. He is expected to get a similar reception on this tour as well.

During this visit, Modi is also expected to conclude the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, or CEPA, and Bilateral Investment Treaties, or BITs, the official said.

The concerned ministries have been asked to make changes to the draft to ensure it is a win-win agreement, he added.

"Canada is keenly looking forward to PM Modi's visit in April. This will rewrite another chapter in the bilateral relationship between the two countries," said Canadian MP Patrick Brown, who also heads the Canada-India Parliamentary Friendship Group. He was one of the very few foreign dignitaries invited for Modi's swearing-in ceremony. In the past decade, Brown had travelled to India 15 times and, on nine occasions, he had visited Gujarat.

India and Canada have engagements in economic cooperation, agriculture, security, civil nuclear energy, education, and science and technology. Indian exports to Canada include organic chemicals, precious stones, metals, apparel and machinery, oil products. India imports vegetables, pulses, fertilizers, paper and paperboard, machinery, wood pulp, iron and steel. The bilateral trade is worth $5 billion.

India has investments of $4 billion in Canada, with Tata Sons and the Aditya Birla Group having major interests. Likewise, Canadian companies, such as Bombardier and Blackberry, have set up their bases in India.

The political leadership from both countries is keen to push trade and investments, along with more engagement in energy, healthcare, infrastructure development and people-to-people contacts. The UPA government had signed a treaty on supply of nuclear fuel (uranium) for peaceful use.

Canada is keen to have investments from Indian companies to mine uranium. According to Canadian law, foreign companies can have up to 49% equity in Canadian uranium mining companies.

Last week, Canada's Minister of Labour and Women, Kellie Leitch, met Union Minister of State for Labour and Employment (Independent Charge) Bandaru Dattatreya to discuss issues related to the labour component of the agreements.

"Our officials will discuss the issues with their Indian counterparts and are expected to reach a consensus by April," Minister Leitch told Business Today.

The official statement from the Indian labour ministry had stated that both sides agreed to work on a number of areas of mutual interest in the field of labour, including capacity building for mediation and conciliation, and promoting joint certification for the skilled workforce of the two countries.

Since Modi took over as the Prime Minister of India, he met Canadian PM Steven Harper only once, on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Brisbane (Australia). However, in the past eight months he has met at least six Canadian federal ministers, including trade minister Ed Fast, foreign minister John Baird and Immigration minister Chistopher Alexander.

Canada expects the two agreements could boost trade between the two countries. The eighth, and last, round of negotiations concluded in June 2013. CEPA is aimed at opening up the services sector and facilitating investment proposals, along with reducing or eliminating duties on products and goods traded between the two.

According to a Joint Study Group (JSG) report by economist and bureaucrats of the two countries, the agreement would benefit both India and Canada.

Indian negotiators wanted more clarity on the taxes to be paid by Indian IT companies and the status of their employees in Canada. However, negotiations on BITs, or as Canada calls it, the Foreign Investment Promotion & Protection Agreement (FIPPA), were stalled after Anglo-Dutch telecom operator Vodafone decided to take on the Indian government in an arbitration tribunal in London, citing similar agreements.