Canada Embarking on Important Journey with India
The importance of building our relationship with Asia is very much on Canadians’ radar according to the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada’s 2012 National Opinion Poll of Canadian Views on Asia. In this poll conducted by Angus Reid consisting of some 3000 interviews, fully 55% agree that strengthening economic and political relationships with Asia should be Canada’s top foreign policy priority. The case of India is illustrative, 57% perceive economic opportunities with India, a rise of 5 points from the 2011 survey. This is a welcome and positive development to be sure but belies the task ahead as we compete with other global players in seeking the attention of Asian countries such as India.
There is now a clear recognition amongst Canadian policy makers at all levels of government and increasingly as well amongst business leaders that developing Asia-focused strategies are vital to future Canadian prosperity. Individual Canadians are also beginning to take this view with over 60% of respondents acknowledging the importance of Asia. In similar vein, the shifting centres of political and economic gravity towards Asia is recognized, “two-thirds believe that China’s influence in the world will surpass that of the U.S. in 10 years; one-third feels the same about India.”
The economic impact is already evident. Saskatchewan’s trade with India is remarkable, the province accounts for one-third of Canada’s exports to India. In the coming year, one of APF’s media fellows, Rashi Khilnani, will examine the “The Dal Route” to better understand how lentils and pulses from that province make their way to Indian plates. It would be incomplete, however, to view the relationship purely through the prism of resources and commodities. Indian investment in Canada, manufacturing alliances, technology to biopharma, among other sectors, provides a much wider perspective of future possibilities. The recent announcement by an Indian technology company, MphasiS, to expand and create jobs in Prince Edward Island is an example of the potential to build mutually reinforcing economic ties. The energy arena writ large is responsive to India’s agenda with clean-tech, mining technology expertise, and the oil sands offering several opportunities. Furthermore, the recent launch of negotiations of the “comprehensive economic partnership agreement” (CEPA) is another positive sign. The target date of completion is 2013.
The economic angle is critically important to our future, but a broader lens is warranted to appreciate the scope of opportunity with India. The demographic dividend in India – with almost half of the 1.2 billion under the age of 25 - presents an excellent opportunity for Canadian universities and colleges. The presence of Indian students coming to Canadian campuses is on an upward trajectory with numbers quadrupling in the last five years. This is a significant trend and will contribute to cementing long term relationships.
Higher education, however, is more than just recruiting students. It is also about developing important research networks. The rise of the innovation agenda in many Asian countries is now apparent and their impact on global innovation chains and business models are being felt across borders. In a recent report released earlier this year, Rising Innovation Capacity in Asia and Opportunities for Canada, Dr. Rahim Rezaie, post doctoral research fellow at APF Canada and the Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto, cites that India’s real investments in R&D nearly doubled in the 2002-2007 period from, US$13 billion to US$25 billion.
Canada and India are on an important journey together and the multifaceted levels of engagement form a solid basis to build substantive ties with representatives in business, government, culture, education and civil society. The presence of a sizable number of Canadians who trace their roots to India will continue to serve as an important bridge builder between the two countries. Moreover, the growing presence of a Canadian diaspora in many Asian countries, including India, will further strengthen the people-to-people connection. Together these individual relationships will translate into institutional ones.
APF Canada’s special initiative, The National Conversation on Asia, is seeking to get Canadians more deeply engaged to THINK about the importance of Asia for Canada, to TALK about the implications of Asia’s rise; and to ACT – because to not act is to risk being left behind in the global economic and power shift that is underway.
We’re back in the game; now we have to build a team for many seasons to come.
This piece was first published by the Indo Canadian Chamber of Commerce on June 9, 2012.
It was co-authored with Kasi Rao is a Toronto-based consultant and a Senior Fellow at the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada.