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India, Canada resume talks on stalled trade pact

After languishing for nearly four years, India and Canadian negotiators have resumed discussions this week towards a possible trade pact.

The discussions, held virtually, were undertaken by officials of India’s commerce ministry and those from Canada’s international trade department. They revisited the stalled Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement or CEPA, which has been under consideration for a full decade after talks were initiated under then Indian prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh and then Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper.

There is some optimism a deal may finally be possible, as Kendal Hembroff, director-general, Trade Negotiations for Global Affairs Canada, tweeted, “Great discussions this week towards a possible trade agreement with India. Canadian and Indian negotiators were hard at work!”

India’s high commissioner to Ottawa Ajay Bisaria responded, “Great to see constructive engagement between trade teams this week on a trade pact and when done, should boost trade and investment in the bilateral economic corridor.”

The last round of negotiations was held in August 2017. While Canadian officials wanted to clinch a Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement or FIPA prior to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s visit to India in February 2018, New Delhi was more interested in concluding CEPA first. However, with relations declining following that disastrous visit, fresh talks were not scheduled outside of routine stocktaking.

Relations have improved this year with Canada appreciative of India’s delivery of 500,000 doses of the AstraZeneca Covishield vaccine in March, followed by Canada’s generosity as India faced the destructive second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, a senior Indian official said the discussions are centred around a “CEPA-lite”, which will take into account areas of interest between the two nations.

Interestingly, the last ministerial-level dialogue on CEPA was held in September 2016 by two leaders who are now both finance ministers in India and Canada – Nirmala Sitharaman, then commerce minister and Chrystia Freeland, then minister of international trade.

Global Affairs Canada describes India as a “priority market”, and India is 9th largest export market, and 10th largest trading partner overall.

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