India-Canada: Boosting Trade & Investment

Victor Fedeli, Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade, Ontario, Canada, recently led a business delegation as part of a trade mission to India. On the sidelines of his visit, the Minister speaks with Subhajit Roy, Group Editor on action plans to increase trade between the two countries. Excerpts.

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India and Canada are countries that show promise when it comes to international trade. Could apprise us on the current status of the trade relationship between Canada and India?
We are excited to be here in Mumbai; we were in New Delhi earlier and we have had a very successful business venture here. I must say that I was quite surprised concerning the low trade volume between Canada and India. To be specific, especially between Ontario and India – this tells me that there is much work to be done. We were recently on a trade mission in South Korea and one in Japan, wherein the two-way trade was more than seven billion dollars. Our overall trade in Japan is more than USD 13 billion and here in India, our two-way trade is just over USD 3 billion – most of it quite frankly is from India going into Ontario, and a very small portion being exported from Ontario into India.

Please tell us your action plan to increase trade between the two countries.
We are here in India with a group of 12 business persons from Ontario. We’re here to meet with the groups from within the country who are involved with both infrastructure and information technology. It leaves me amazed and impressed to see the extent of transportation and telecommunication infrastructure that India has continually pursued.

To think of the scope of growth and development, we were amazed about the move to India from rural to urban. Every minute, around 30 people move from rural to urban areas within India, and that amounts to 16 million people every year. That is a massive volume and all of this requires infrastructure and development. Firms from Ontario have the expertise to invest in India. I call it the blank canvas that is ready to paint a full picture comprising of two jurisdictions working together.

Tell us about the volume of business you are hoping for from the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sectors? What opportunities do you foresee for the ICT sector in India?
Ontario exports less than USD 400 million to a population of 1.3 billion! Ontario is the second-largest in the technology cluster in all of North America after Silicon Valley, we have 22,000 technology companies, and this just means that we can look for opportunities and partnerships for investment in India.

Canada has achieved considerable momentum in the Artificial Intelligence (AI) thanks to its Pan-Canadian AI Strategy. Could you tell us more about the strategy and how it works?
We are very pleased with Ontario’s leadership role in the AI-field. We have great opportunities with the system and the talent we are creating through our universities. We have opportunities with our research grants as well in Canada and in Ontario. So, we continue to support our universities, education systems and our companies who are leading the way in technology. Robotics, for instance, is a beautifully disruptive industry, and we say that in the nicest possible way. We see that there will be more than USD 40-billion of robotics happening in the near future. Certainly, in Ontario, we take that very seriously, and we have many companies who are working in that field and we just continue to grow and develop in the robotics sector. We think that India can be a leading component in that.

How is Canada working at the government level with the Indian authorities to build a bridge for trade?
We continue to use our universities and colleges as a bridge between the two countries. We have had a college in Ontario sign two MoUs with organisations in India. So, we know that it is going to be a continued strength that we offer. We continue to grow by thinking together.

How mature is the Indian industry in terms of skill development?
We are very impressed – everything is at a different scale in India when you compare it to North America. You have companies here who have employed 7,00,000 people and that would be virtually unheard of in North America. We know that training levels are very advanced, in Ontario we’d to be able to offer our educational opportunities as well. We have 52,000 students of Indian origin in Ontario right now, we have got a very vibrant Indian population – 8,30,000 Ontarians are of Indian origin. Around 1,71,000 tourists from India visit Ontario each year – so we know that there is great opportunity to continue the exchange.

During this visit you met several prominent Indian companies and individuals. What would be the takeaway?
A very interesting outcome is that an Indian engineering company VVDN Technologies has announced that they will set up a facility in Ontario; employing 250-300 engineers. This is a prime example of the kind of relations that we have been developing. We have been engaged with them for some time and now that is concluded – it is an exciting announcement that comes out of a trip like this.

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