News Analysis: Expect photo-ops, not final bilateral trade agreement, from Trudeau's visit to India

Source: Xinhua| 2018-02-17 05:16:23|Editor: Chengcheng
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By Christopher Guly

OTTAWA, Feb. 16 (Xinhua) -- There will be much style but little substance to emerge from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's first state visit to India, according to international trade expert Vivek Dehejia.

"The one big missing piece is that we will not see the signing of a comprehensive economic and trade agreement that would have been a crowning achievement for this visit, which has been in the works since 2010," said Dehejia, an associate professor of economics and philosophy at Carleton University in Ottawa.

"There will be business roundtables and the usual photo opportunities at the Taj Mahal and the Golden Temple, and stuff like that."

Trudeau arrives in New Delhi on Saturday and will be in India until Feb. 23, with stops also scheduled in Agra, Amritsar, Ahmedabad and Mumbai. His visit follows 11 others to India by members of his cabinet since September 2016.

Negotiations for a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement between Canada and India began in November 2010 when Stephen Harper, the former leader of Canada's Conservative Party, was Canada's prime minister. Harper had a "natural kinship" with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a fellow conservative, said Dehejia, who holds a Ph.D. in economics from Columbia University in New York City and is a resident senior fellow at the IDFC Institute, a think-tank in Mumabi.

But he also pointed out that neither leader was a scion of political dynasties as Trudeau, whose father Pierre, was also a Canadian prime minister and Rahul Gandhi, president of India's main opposition Congress party previously led by his mother, Sonia, as well his father Rajiv, his grandmother Indira and his maternal great-grandfather, Jawaharlal Nehru, who all served as Indian prime ministers.

"When Mr. Trudeau became prime minister in 2015, he shifted gears from the Conservatives' playbook on trade that was pragmatic and commercially driven," said Mumbai-born Dehejia in an interview.

"Mr. Trudeau is more ideological and wants to push progressive issues on women, indigenous people, the environment and labor laws, which are legitimate but trade agreements are not the best way to push these issues. Mr. Trudeau's progressive trade agenda will not play well in India any more than it played in China."

The Canadian prime minister was criticized for promoting that agenda during a visit to China last December that many observers, including Trudeau's own government, hoped would advance trade talks between the two countries.

Annual two-way merchandise trade is worth about 6.4 billion U.S. dollars, representing less than one percent of both Canada's and India's total foreign trade and investment, said Dehejia, who believes the prime reason for Trudeau's trip will be for the benefit of the more than one million Canadians of Indian descent - and most particularly, the half-million Sikh Canadians - all of whom his Liberal Party has relied on in the past for support in general elections.

But Harry Sharma, who heads the Canada-India Centre for Excellence, also at Carleton University, expects the Canadian prime minister's visit to move forward negotiations on free trade and the Canada-India Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement, which he noted is close to being signed.

"These are two very strong sovereign countries that want to make sure they are agreeing to things that they are comfortable with politically, socially and culturally before they get into a marriage on free trade," said Delhi-born Sharma.

"It's like a Bollywood movie, where both countries are dancing and still figuring out if they're going to fall in love. But I believe that eventually there will be a happy ending. There's so much the two countries have in common, and the two agreements on free trade and investment protection will be very useful in expanding their trade partnership to its full potential."