The future of India and Canada’s trade, commerce, and investment

India and Canada’s trade relationship holds untapped potential

ILLUSTRATION: Shaheen Virk / The Peak.

Written by: Saman Dara, SFU Student

Trade, commerce, and investment between India and Canada has been taking place for decades. The Beedie School of Businesses event, moderated by dean Andrew Gemino, covered the Indo-Canadian trade relationship, commerce, and investment. The three guest panelists Zoish Bengali, Manoj Kohli , and Sukesh Kumar also focused on the untapped potential of the relationship.

All three panelists have a great deal of experience in different sectors of India and Canada’s bilateral trade and were enthusiastic about further inspiring India’s and Canada’s joint ventures. They provided deep insights for understanding the trade relationship, seizing business opportunities, and what to expect for the years to come. 

Kohli is currently serving as the Country Head of SoftBank India. He was also involved in the development of renewable energy in India, including solar and wind projects. Previously, Kohli was the CEO and managing director of Bharti Airtel, the third largest telecommunications company in the world. 

The second panelist, Bengali, is an international trade expert with a focus on Asia. She has 15 years of experience advancing bilateral trade, and is now responsible for Forestry Innovation Investment’s (FII) Market Initiatives Program with the purpose of expanding export markets for BC wood to multiple countries including China, Japan, Korea, India, and Vietnam.

Lastly, Kumar is an audit partner with KPMG, a global organization of firms offering audit, tax, and advisory services. Kumar is actively involved in the Canada-India Business Corridor as he their National Leader of India Practice in Canada. Often engaged in policy dialogue, his various positions in organizations like Canada-India Business Council and The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE) have secured the Canada-India trade corridor. 

Apart from formal trade agreements, Canada and India have tremendous social and cultural ties. Canada is home to the eighth largest population of the Indian diaspora, and immigration has been drastically increasing. In Canadian universities, 34% of all international students come from India. Moreover, many socio-cultural trends like Bollywood, yoga, and plant-based foods have initiated trade and commerce. 

Today, trade agreements from India to Canada have opened channels for various industries, including pharmaceuticals, jewelry, mechanical appliances, engineering products, software development, and steel to name a few. From Canada, India acquires wood pulp, electrical machinery and equipment, mineral fuels, fertilizers and much more. 

Bengali rightfully portrayed India as an established economy which “does not like to be far behind in emerging trends and opportunities.” Thus, bilateral trade between the two countries has never been more important. In particular, Bengali mentioned that business programs which would aid Canada and India trade relations should be prioritized. She referenced the Make in India,, an initiative launched in 2014 with the goal of “transform[ing] India into a global design and manufacturing hub.” Bengali explained, “Canada has the resources [India] need[s] to fulfill these requirements.”

Kholi and Kumar spoke on the expansion of the tech and smartphone industry, in which India is the largest and fastest growing digital consumer market. It is estimated that India’s internet users will rise by 40% and smartphones users will double by 2023. Kholi explained,“Physical infrastructure is weak in India. Therefore, digital transactions are picking up much faster than any other country of the world, and can be exploited by Canadian exports to India,” which means that the two counries can potentially continue toI complement each other’s strengths.

All three panelists agreed that there are some trade barriers, however. For BC’s forest industry exports to India, Bengali said there is a disadvantage for Canadians as it takes 60 days to trade from the west coast of Canada. Meanwhile, it takes two weeks for Europeans. Nonetheless, she expressed hope within the high end niche market for Indian consumers who are willing to pay the price, especially in trend with the rise of North American inspired luxury home furnitures and interiors.

Governments from both countries should be motivating exporters and importers alike to build a strong foundation for the future. According to Kohli, India’s manufacturing quality and affordability have dramatically increased, and Canadian businesses should be exploiting this opportunity. 

Instead, many Canadian businesses and levels of government are largely relying on the US, EU, and Mexico for trade. Kumar mentioned that India is the second largest start-up ecosystem, which will be a great opportunity for Canadian businesses to diversify their markets. A shift of focus by different levels of government and businesses should reveal these long term benefits.

With a population of over 1.3 billion and the fifth highest GDP in the world, the panelists were in agreement that India has the human resource and Canada has the materials to form a stronger alliance for both countries to reap the benefits. This is greatly important as by 2025, India is to become the third-largest consumer economy, from which vast options of talent, manufacturing, and digitization will be provided from India to countries globally. Consequently, Canadians should expect competition in pursuing future business relations as other countries see India’s potential. It is clear that the market opportunity is available for Canadians. 

Gemino and the panelists avoided discussing specific events, such as the Farmer’s Protests, and how they impacted bilateral relations. Prime Minister Trudeau showed support for the peaceful protests in December which strained the relationship between the two countries. Recently, Prime Minister Modi’s willingness to facilitate supplies of COVID-19 vaccines is repairing India and Canada’s diplomatic ties. This is a big development as signified by Vijay Thomas, President of Indo-Canada Chamber of Commerce. 

“Sometimes politics leads to a better trade relationship, but better trade too can lead to a better political relationship. This development will help remove all irritants between our two countries.”