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India, Canada FTA recommended

September 10, 2008 02:37 IST

Indo-Canadian CEOs "have concluded that Canada and India should enter into a new era of cooperation", which should result in their concluding a "comprehensive Free Trade Agreement."

The CEOs on both sides, headed by Thomas d'Aquino, chief executive and president of Canadian Council of Chief Executives, and Tarun Das, president of Confederation of Indian Industries, submitted a 14-page report on September 2 to the two trade ministers in Canada and India for their considerations and follow-up actions.

It was in June last year that India's Commerce Minister Kamal Nath and Canada's Minister for International Trade David Emersion asked the India-Canada CEO Roundtable participants for advice on the possibility of launching negotiations toward a free trade agreement between the two countries.

The draft report that they have now submitted is the result of that initiative by two ministers.
 
"It is time to elevate the trade and investment relationship between Canada and India to a new level," and the CEO Roundtable participants, in their draft report, "recommend the launch of discussions toward a comprehensive economic partnership agreement consistent with the principles outlined in the report."

"CEO Roundtable participants agreed that deepening bilateral trade relations should support rather than upstage or undermine the multilateral agenda," the report added.

The CEOs on both sides "believe that the scope to conduct business bilaterally is limitless and that the time to engage is now. The products and services that Canada and India produce and what each country needs are complementary. The strong linkages offered by a vibrant Indo-Canadian community represent further untapped potential in the relationship."

Some people have expressed apprehension that the proposed FTA agreement could not serve much purpose when the trade between the two countries is so low -- about $4-billion on two sides this year. According to some projections, within the next five years it could increase to $10 billion.

CEOs on both sides disagree with this kind of pessimism. "A more aggressive but strategic approach to the bilateral relationship is needed to produce benefits for both India and Canada in the form of new markets for goods and services, opportunities for investment and stronger economic growth."

It is suggested in their draft report that "pursuit of deeper commercial relations would result in greater competitiveness and prosperity for Canada and India."

Dr Wendy Dobson, professor at Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto, said the report by the CEOs "has all the good principles and it is suggested that it should be comprehensive FTA, and agriculture should be included as far as possible."

Participating in a Canada-India business round table, sponsored jointly by Indo-Canada Chamber of Commerce and Ontario Chamber of Commerce, held on September 4, Dobson said, "It is a good time (for release of this document), something that needs to simmer and be considered and tackled, if possible."

"Official responses are positive as what we learnt during Canada-US Free trade negotiations and subsequently in the North American free trade agreement negotiations is that even the prospect of negotiations is an enormous catalyst and raised business interests as to how should we position ourselves if this (FTA) happens," she said.

"Given current global, regional, and country-specific economic conditions, further study will be needed in a number of sectors that are not yet ready for full bilateral liberalisations, including the agricultural and cultural sectors," the CEO Roundtable report said.

Agriculture, it is known, is a very important and touchy sector in India as 50 pe rcent of the country's population still depends on agriculture for their sustenance.

As for the CEO Roundtable participants, "There are no major impediments to beginning bilateral negotiations immediately… (as) for agriculture, the negotiations should take into account the livelihood issues in India and develop areas of complementarity; non-tariff barriers should be eliminated between the two countries; and the FTA should include a binding dispute settlement mechanism."

In their report, the CEOs have recommended that the two prime ministers should move beyond the 2003 and 2005 joint declarations signed by leaders in two countries "and endorse the launch in 2008 of negotiations toward a Free Trade Agreement."

Such an agreement, CEO Roundtable participants suggested, "would enable closer bilateral cooperation in priority areas such as security, commercial exchanges, culture, science and technology, education, infrastructure and energy and the environment."

The report also discussed the potential of India as "a large and growing economy; one that is projected to become the world's third largest by 2050 and therefore, it is suggested that the Canadian businesses must engage more actively."

Thomas d'Aqino was the keynote speaker at Indo-Canada Chamber of Commerce Gala on June 14, when India's Minister of Science and Technology Kapil Sibbal was among the special guests present that evening.

D'Aquino explained how a group of Canadian CEOs, under his leadership, went to India in March last year, which was part of the Canada-India CEO Roundtable. It was followed by visit of Indian CEOs for their second CEO Roundtable in Montreal in June where Minister Kamal Nath, Canada's Minister for International Trade David Emersion and Quebec Premier Jean Charest were also present.

"At that meeting, both ministers asked the Canada-India CEO Roundtable participants for advice on the possibility of launching negotiations towards a free trade agreement between India and Canada," d'Aquino said.

This draft 14-page report has been submitted to the two ministers.

The CEOs on both sides believe that the FTA, once concluded, "would deepen economic engagement to the benefit of both countries" and it would also reinforce "existing agreements and understanding."

"While our bilateral trade and investment remains modest, significant benefits would accrue to both Canada and India if this (Free Trade) agreement was substantial and comprehensive, covering a broad range of trade-related areas," the CEOs said.

The CEOs have recommended that the two prime ministers "should meet at the earliest opportunity to consider the course of action recommended" by them in their draft report.

"India-Canada CEO Roundtable participants pledge to hold additional meetings to prepare for the launch of the negotiations," they said.

Ajit Jain in Toronto