BY RATTAN MALL
“In the overall India-Canada trade partnership, British Columbia today accounts for around 33% of total Canadian exports to India. India is also the 5th largest export destination for BC products.”
FOR Indian Consul General Manish, who’s been in Vancouver since last August, this city “has its own charm and it grows on you with passage of time.” He recalled when he arrived here, someone he knows commented that it is one city from where one can travel to the mountains, the green forests and the ocean beaches in one day.
Manish, who goes by one name, told The VOICE: “Vancouver is not only a beautiful city but it is also a trade gateway to Western Canada. For the Indian Diaspora it has great historical significance as the first immigrants from India arrived in 1904 and established themselves in British Columbia. So, Vancouver has a very old connection with India and today the Greater Vancouver area has one of the most thriving populations of Indian descent in Canada.”
Before his present assignment, Manish was posted at India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) in New Delhi. In Delhi, he worked briefly in the Sushma Swaraj Foreign Service Institute. He also served as Joint Secretary managing India’s bilateral relationship with ASEAN countries, Australia, New Zealand and Pacific Island countries, and later in the Overseas Indian Affairs Division.
He’s served at Indian missions in Moscow, Tashkent (Uzbekistan), Prague (Czech Republic), Colombo (Sri Lanka) and Jakarta (Indonesia). In between his overseas assignments, he also served at the MEA in various roles looking after bilateral and multilateral affairs.
The Consulate General in Vancouver looks after India’s bilateral relationship with the Western Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Yukon and Northwest Territories, and provides consular services to the people living in these areas.
He told The VOICE: “Western Canada is very important in the overall India-Canada relationship, and since it was my first assignment in this part of the world, I looked forward to it.”
Here is our interview with Manish:
VOICE: What is the state of trade – as well as scientific and educational cooperation – between India and Canada?
Manish: The trade and investment linkages between India and Canada form an integral component of the multi-faceted partnership between the two countries. Total bilateral trade in goods between India and Canada was worth C$10.23 billion in 2019, a remarkable increase of 23.94% from 2015. Indian exports to Canada have shown an increase in the last five years from $3.077 billion in 2015 to $3.982 billion in 2019, an increase of 29%.
While the Canadian exports to India have also grown in the same time frame, the rate of growth of Indian exports to Canada has been greater than the rate of growth of imports from Canada. In the decadal time frame, i.e. from 2011-12 – 2018-19, Indian exports to Canada have grown by 38.85%.
India’s bilateral services trade with Canada stood at C$4.01 billion in 2019 with exports worth C$1.72 billion and imports worth C$2.29 billion. India’s service exports to Canada are largely commercial services driven by the ICT (Information and Communication Technology) services delivered by large Indian IT companies operating in Canada, while Canada’s major service export to India is in the form of travel services.
Canada has now emerged as a major source of portfolio investments into India. Canadian Pension Funds and other financial majors have increased their Indian portfolios, with Canadian investments in India growing from $4 billion in 2015 to over $60 billion now in such sectors such as Infrastructure, Highways, Airports, Clean Energy, Education, Logistics, Real Estate, Banking, Hospitality and Warehousing.
Canada is also one of the major sources of FDI [Foreign Direct Investment] for India with 600 Canadian companies having a presence in India, and more than 1,000 companies are actively pursuing business in the Indian market. Canada is the 20th largest foreign investor in India with a cumulative investment of C$2.59 billion from April 2000 to December 2019, which represents 0.42% of the total FDI inflows into India.
In view of the economic slowdown, it was naturally expected that India-Canada bilateral trade would also suffer a sharp downturn. Canada’s overall global trade fell by 12%, the bilateral trade reduced by 14.7% in 2020 over 2019 figures, but due to strong effort to promote Indian exports to Canada, during the period, the negative impact on India’s exports to Canada was much less than the decrease of Canadian exports to India. In 2020, Canada’s export to India fell by 24.2% over 2019 figures. However, the impact of India’s exports was much less, with only 6% contraction in the same period.
In the overall India-Canada trade partnership, British Columbia today accounts for around 33% of total Canadian exports to India. India is also the 5th largest export destination for BC products. One of your biggest mineral and natural resource company Teck Resources alone have managed to scale up their export of coal for steel-making industry to India from 300 thousand metric tonnes 10 years ago, to over 4 million metric tonnes today.
Apart from trade, investments are also doing well. We have many success stories where BC companies in the tech and infrastructure domain have implanted their businesses in India. Many Indian tech companies like Tech Mahindra are already in BC. Recently, Infosys the Indian tech giant, announced an expansion into Calgary which will generate 500 jobs. I believe there is interest among Indian IT companies to expand into British Columbia. We also receive several requests from smaller venture capitalists to connect them with the Indian start-up ecosystem for private equity placements.
For British Columbia, India remains the second largest international source market for Indian students. In 2015, BC had 12,040 international students from India registered in post-secondary education. In 2017 this number grew by a whopping 147% to 29,735. I think today we have over 40,000 international students from India in BC, bringing in over one billion CAD in revenue to BC.
Fortunately, there are also many platforms of mutual research and collaboration that are already in existence. The most notable is the MITACS and IC-IMPACTS. The latter is a collaborative research platform administered from UBC that connects top Canadian and Indian universities in joint projects aimed to build creative, low cost-high impact community-based solutions to key challenges that affect the quality of life of millions of people on both sides. I am an honorary member of SFU’s India Advisory Council that has many illustrious people as active members who are always setting the agenda for deeper educational collaboration with Indian institutions. Many of the top universities in B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan have MoUs and collaborative frameworks with Indian universities and research institutions..
There is also some research and industry-based collaboration that is taking place under other platforms like Digital Technology Supercluster based in Vancouver, the ZACH partnership pioneered by Teck Resources, APF Canada-SFU’s India Connect Program, etc. We are, of course, trying to act as catalysts wherever we can to bring together more such partnerships.
VOICE: What exactly is the function of the Consulate General regarding visas, etc.? Are you planning on any changes or improvements, if necessary?
Manish: The main function of any Consulate is to deliver consular, passport and visa services. For us that is even more important as we have a large Indian Diaspora in Western Canada. This past year has been very challenging due to the pandemic. However, my colleagues at the Consulate have worked very hard to ensure that applicants got their visas processed in time, their passports renewed and OCIs [Overseas Citizenship of India] and police clearances issued in spite of lockdowns and restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In view of the rise in cases of COVID-19 infections across Canada, including in British Columbia, and in keeping with the revised COVID-19 guidelines issued by the BC Health authorities, we are taking additional precautions. This is necessary to ensure the health and well being of our personnel so that they can continue to deliver these services without disruptions. The emergency services continue to be given on working days and also on holidays.
From time to time, we notify the changes in the consular services. There are no walk-in services at the Consulate except in cases of emergency with prior appointment. The tourist visa and e-visa to India are still suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We have revised our consular fees from April 1, 2021 and it has been notified. People can continue to get our consular services through BLS offices in Surrey, Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary.
VOICE: Next year will be the 75th anniversary of India’s independence. Is there any special plan to celebrate this?
Manish: We would be celebrating 75th anniversary of India’s Independence on August15, 2022. To mark this momentous occasion, the Government of India has decided to celebrate the entire period from March 2021 to August 2023 as a period to celebrate the 75th Independence Day under the title ‘India@75’. The ‘Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav’ was launched by Prime Minister Modi from Sabarmati Ashram on March 12, 2021, to celebrate India@75. The celebrations will be dedicated to the people of India. During this period there are plans to showcase India’s rich heritage, culture and achievements through broad themes like Ek Bharat, Shreshtha Bharat; Har Rajya, Har Bhasha, Bharat ka Gauravshali Itihaas, Vishwa Guru Bharat, Atmanirbhar Bharat, Vaishwik or Global Outreach, etc. A Shatabdi Sankalp will be taken to serve as a guiding light or vision for the next 25 years because year 2047 will mark the 100 years of India’s independence.
The Consulate has already started the celebrations in partnership with Indian diaspora. I am reaching out to our diaspora through community leaders and Indo-Canadian associations inviting them to bring their ideas and activities so that we can jointly organize India@75 celebrations.