Commentary by: Kasi Rao in Toronto, ON
Increasing trade and investment with India was a focal point of the discussion at this year’s Canada-India Business Council’s Annual Partnership Summit. There’s enormous room for growth, with two-way trade currently hovering around a modest $8 billion between the two countries. The purpose of the Summit is to provide an opportunity for the business community to discuss and collaborate on how to best pursue this lucrative opportunity.
The unprecedented participation at the Mumbai and Delhi business forums during Prime Minister Trudeau’s visit in February, as well as those who were in Toronto, point to the business community’s sustained interest. Attendance and participation from various major sectors, and especially by the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB), Brookfield, Fairfax, Air Canada, and Bombardier Inc., was duly noticed in India.
Additionally, the need to develop business opportunities in the context of gender-related initiatives such as those discussed at the Executive Women’s Roundtable in Mumbai, was recognized as an opportunity to pursue for Canada and India.
There is real potential for increased growth given the statistics of the growing immigration and foreign student population in Canada. Last year alone there was a 58% increase in both study and work permits issued to Indian citizens (Statistics Canada, 2016 Census Data). The skilling needs of India and innovative research partnerships that address the development needs at all skill levels were highlighted with examples of Canadian collaboration.
Still just a few months into the year, the Canada-India Business Council is busy working to sustain the momentum and implement actionable recommendations. Whether a start-up, boutique, or conglomerate, creating spaces where members of the business community are able to learn of new opportunities in the corridor is the abiding theme behind all of our initiatives.
During the summit, senior executives from BMO Financial Group, Tata Consultancy Services, ICICI Bank, Air Canada, and Bombardier Inc. were panel participants, offering practical insights for all levels of enterprise. Leading Indian corporations such as TCS, and Paytm shared invaluable lessons and advice on navigating the local landscape. Representatives from Seneca College and The University of Toronto spoke of the fascinating breadth of ideas and innovation that comes through intercontinental knowledge exchange and how that exchange subsequently feeds into economic growth. Rounding out the holistic approach, the Summit also attracted interest and collaboration from various branches of the Canadian government and the Indian Consulate and High Commission.
Increased collaboration continues to make good business sense. For Canadian companies, India is a viable growth market in a wide range of sectors. For Indian businesses, Canada is a way to continue the relationship with existing customers with access to North American markets. Both countries have long identified diversification as a tremendous facet of surviving the ever-changing economic landscape.
One of the important developments underway in India is the emphasis on “competitive and co-operative federalism”. Panelists observed that various states in India have undertaken a number of policy reforms. As such, it was noted that businesses should target the subnational level as a viable avenue to encourage growth. This of course is consistent with Canadian federalism where a number of provinces are active in promoting their interests reflecting the diverse strengths of the Canadian economy.
The Canadian brand is evolving and our openness to trade and investment, innovation and ideas, combined with pluralism and diversity are important to emphasize to relevant Indian audiences as we move forward.
Canada’s strategy within the creative industry was discussed as another avenue for growth. The Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) was highlighted as a remarkable cross-sector example of the soft power so useful in international relations. Given the Festival’s global projection, reach, and existing ties to giants in Canadian literature, exploration of collaboration here in Toronto is yet another way to bolster economic interests.
A report will be prepared on the Summit encompassing key learnings, challenges, and next steps.
The Canada-India Business Council has and will continue to hold roundtables, and meetings across the country for business leaders, and government representatives to tackle the ‘How?’ and ‘What now?’ of opportunities from a local perspective. Host cities include Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal, Halifax, Saskatoon, and Vancouver, among others.
The end of this year will see the Council back in India for the Mumbai Forum where the aim is to build on the sustained engagement.
Kasi Rao is President and CEO of the Canada-India Business Council (C-IBC).
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit