What Narendra Modi should do to give India’s economy a boost, according to former high commissioner Sutherland

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPETER Sutherland, former Canadian high commissioner to India who is currently President and CEO of the Canada-India Business Council, told me back in April that he hoped the Indian election would lead “to a strong, reform-oriented government which will be good for India and good for Canada.”

He said: “I am quite optimistic about the result of the election. I think it will be a good move forward.”

Now that the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Narendra Modi is the new Prime Minister with a majority government, what should he do?

Sutherland had pointed out to me that the Indian economy has slowed considerably from its 9 or 10 per cent growth rate down to around 5 per cent.

He added: “Part of that, of course, has repercussions for the business sector and for the country’s ability to grow as a whole. And so what’s important I think is to find a way of revitalizing, regenerating and re-energizing the economy.”

When I asked him about the specific steps that a new government should take to give the economy a boost, Sutherland said that the first thing it would need to do would be to “start taking some decisions and stick with them,” pointing out the then-Congress-led government’s “kind of policy paralysis.”

He referred to the proposed tax reform, transfer of land and labour reform as examples. He added: “In addition, a number of major projects have been stalled because they haven’t got the needed clearances from the environmental authorities and as well you’ve got situations where mining licences have been stopped or not issued or mining has been stopped simply because there is a concern about corruption.”

Sutherland said that India needed “a strong government that’s prepared to move on some of these files, to take decisions, and that I think will not only help restore confidence in the business community, both the Indian business community and also the foreign business community, lead to increase in investment and growth in the economy.”

I asked Sutherland what further steps could either India or Canada take to boost trade between the two countries and he replied: “I think there’s a lot of interest on both sides, certainly in particular sectors. I think the sectors that are of the greatest potential for business between the two countries are energy, agriculture, education and probably infrastructure. Those are areas that are of prime importance to India and those are areas where Canada has something valid to offer.”

He felt that if the new government took reform measures, confidence will be reignited both in India and in Canada and in those sectors where there is that potential, leading to a pickup in business.
Sutherland said that there is an “enormous potential” for further increase in trade between the two countries. He pointed out that although the Australian economy is about two-thirds the size of our economy, Australia’s bilateral trade with India is about $20 billion a year as compared to our bilateral trade with India of roughly $5 billion a year.

When I asked Sutherland about India’s international alignments, he pointed out: “I think what you are finding is that India has become much more of a global player than it was in the past. In the old days it seemed to be sort of fixated on its own immediate neighbourhood – South Asia.”

He added that India is now a “much bigger, more prominent player” with the so-called “Look East” policy where it’s quite active in East Asia as member of the informal group known as the BRIC [Brazil, Russia, India and China].

He said: “They work together and are self-supporting and you’ve got the opening of India to the West, particularly in relation to the United States, with Canada, of course, with Europe and other major global players like Japan. India is now a member of the G20 as you know and is widely consulted on most major issues that affect the world in general. India is much more outward looking than it was in the past. I think that’s to be encouraged.”

(Sutherland advises Canadian companies interested in doing business in India, the Middle East and other parts of Asia. He is with Toronto law firm Aird & Berlis LLP. He also served as Canada’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia and the Philippines besides posting in the United States, Hungary, and Ivory Coast and as an attorney in the Inter-American Development Bank.)


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