Canada hopes to increase its trade-related cooperation with India by attempting to ink a free-trade agreement (FTA) and is also looking to participate in India’s ambitious road and railways expansion projects. The country’s Minister for Transport MARC GARNEAU, who is here with several of his colleagues and a delegation of Canadian companies to have a dialogue with Indian counterparts for a trade pact, told Pranav Mukul in an interview that the North American nation is looking for opportunities to find mutual cooperation where trade barriers could be lowered. Edited excerpts:
What is Canada hoping to achieve in its discussions this time with India on the FTA?
We hope to, at some point, have a trade agreement. But these are things that have to be discussed by the countries. We think there’s a lot more potential between two countries, whether it is in transportation, environmental technologies, aerospace, ICT, and any area where there may be an interest and Canadian expertise could be useful. At the moment, too, there’s a lot of commerce between the two countries. We sell you a lot of agricultural and food products, and fertilisers, and you sell us refined oil, medicines, diamonds. So, there are areas where we have a need from each other.
Does the potential fall-out of the North American FTA have bearing on how Canada is negotiating trade pacts with other nations?
Canada is a trading nation. We trade with many countries including the United States, Europe and India. There are opportunities to find mutual cooperation where we can lower barriers and trade with each other. Canada depends on trade for its economy. So, we are looking for places to trade.
What are the avenues of cooperation between India and Canada in the transportation sector?
We already are cooperating in some areas. For example in civil aviation, there have been purchases by Indian airlines of Canadian-built aircraft. We have some cooperation on road transportation, where tolling systems on some highways were built and are being run and operated by Canadian companies. Canadian companies have the potential of being involved with the expansion of the railway system. We are very interested in that. Major part of the company Bombardier is involved in making passenger cars as well as locomotives. We have about $8 billion of trade between the two countries, and we would like to grow that, particularly in the transportation sector with opportunities for Canadian companies to participate in contracts here, but also by opening the doors for Indian companies that may want to bid on contracts in Canada. We would also like to encourage in each other’s countries as well. I know there are ambitious projects India has to build more roads and railway lines, and we would like to be part of that. That’s why I am here with two other Canadian ministers and a large delegation of companies making contact with Indian companies to see if we can participate in some of those projects.
Have you interacted with your Indian counterpart on any particular issues?
On Monday, I was at the transport ministers’ forum, which was organised by minister Nitin Gadkari. It was to talk about road safety because worldwide over a million people die on the road every year, and so countries and the United Nations as well, want to work together to reduce the number of fatalities. We signed the document called the ‘Delhi Declaration’, which has a number of steps for us to work on to try to improve road safety so that less people would die on the roads.
What does the Delhi Declaration broadly entail?
The kinds of things we need to do is to take a more uniform approach to road infrastructure, that’s one aspect of it. We need to gather more data to understand the situation, and focus on reducing the causes of accidents. Sometimes it’s because of distracted driving because people are using their cellphones when they are driving, or in some cases because of alcohol. Education is important part of it, so that people obey the rules of the road more because if everybody obeys the rules for speed and everything else, then less people will be killed. Lot of these things are common sense, but it is important for all countries to sign-up to it, and that’s what we did.
The concept of autonomous vehicles is being pegged as one that could improve road safety. While it still appears to be far from immediate future, Canada has already started formulating a policy for autonomous cars. What prompted you to look into it?
We want to be part of it. We think autonomous vehicles are going to be a good thing. Autonomous and connected vehicles as well. Canada has expertise in that area, and all the big car companies are developing autonomous vehicles, and as the transport minister I have to make sure that when these vehicles are ready to be used, we have the proper regulations. I’m interested in making sure that the regulations ensure the safety of the autonomous vehicles, and I’m also interested in making sure that Canadian companies can participate in developing technologies. Recently, I went to Tesla, and other companies in California and I also went to Detroit, Michigan, where all the big auto manufacturers are, to see what they’re doing. We also looked at areas of possible cooperation. We think that autonomous vehicles are going to be with us and widely used in the next 10-15 years. So, we have to be ready for them and be a part of it.