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Towards Closer Partnership: Canada South Asia Relations

by Srimal Fernando, Global Editor, The Diplomatic Society & Prateek Joshi

Over the past few decades Canada has maintained consistently longstanding cordial relations with many South Asian nations.  As of 2011, South Asian Canadians constitute almost 5 percent of the Canadian population, being the largest visible minority in Canada. In the changing strategic atmosphere, Canada is playing a constructive role in the economic development of the South Asian countries and has emerged a key promoter of economic cooperation in the region.

Canada- India Relations

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India, walk down the Hall of Honour in Centre Block on Parliament Hill. (Image: Office of the Prime Minister of Canada)

Canada and India have made remarkable progress in bilateral relations and are laying strong foundations for their future growth.  In the year 2014 bilateral trade between both the nations was Canadian Dollars (CAD)  $6.5 billion. Canadians of Indian origin have achieved various feats with a long list of Indians having achieved respectable positions. Nearly 1.2 million people of Indian origin are Canadian citizens now. For example, a few notable politicians are Ujjal Dosanjh (Former Premier of British Colombia and former Health Minister), Herb Dhaliwal (the first Indian origin person to serve as a cabinet minister), former House of Commons member Ruby Dhalla and many more.

The recent visit to Canada by Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the first standalone bilateral visit to Canada by an Indian leader after 42 years, according to the Indian Ministry of External Affairs. That is, this visit was exclusively a Canada centric visit. The agreements entered spanned a range of sectors namely energy, space cooperation, education and skill development and healthcare. One of these agreements was to supply uranium to India to meet her power generation requirements. This was a follow up development over the 2010 civil nuclear cooperation deal signed between both the countries. The uranium supply deal clearly highlights the level of trust both the nations share with each other. The cooperation has also extended to the field of space sciences. For instance, in June 2014, Indian Satellite Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) C-23 launched two Canadian satellites. The Canadian High Commission in New Delhi has a crucial role to play and is at the front-line in bringing the relations between India and Canada closer.

His Excellency Nadir Patel, incoming High Commissioner for Canada to India, presented his credentials to His Excellency Shri Pranab Mukherjee, the Honourable President of India, in  January 16, 2015.

Canada- Sri Lanka Relations

Canadian High Commissioner Her Excellency Shelley Whiting in the center with Interns from World University Service of Canada and Canadian High Commission officials (Image: World University Service of Canada Sri Lanka)

Canada established diplomatic relations with Sri Lanka in 1953. The establishment of the first Residential mission for Ceylon in Ottawa dates back to 1958. Canada had been one of the largest financial and technical assistance providing nations to Sri Lanka. Canada, through the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA)  had  giving more than Canadian Dollars (CAD) 22.5 million in aid  as humanitarian and other related  relief  to Sri Lanka, during the  post conflict period . The apparel market still dominates the Sri Lanka - Canada export trade.  In 2012 apparel exports to Canada from Sri Lanka accounted for (US$) 312.88 million American dollars. The Sri Lankan diaspora in Canada maintains their cultural aspirations to link with Sri Lanka. Today 200,000– 250,000 Sri Lankan Tamil descendents are estimated to live in Canada.  Today, the Canadian High Commissioner,  Her Excellency Shelley Whiting, oversees  the  mission in Sri Lanka and the Maldives .  

Canada - Pakistan Relations

Canada’s bilateral relationship with Pakistan is regarded as politically, strategically and economically important, and it has been steadily strengthening and has become one of the main partners in South Asia. Bilateral trade between Canada and Pakistan stood at Canadian Dollars (CAD)  $651.0 million in 2009 (International Affairs, Trade and Finance Division, Parliament of Canada, 2010). The Canadian government has been providing humanitarian support to Pakistan. Canada pledged approximately Canadian Dollars (CAD) $130 million for earthquake relief and reconstruction efforts during the 2005 post earthquake disaster period.

Canada –Afghanistan Relations

Canadian Ambassador Deborah Lyons and Afghan General Khaliq after the Remembrance Day ceremony at the Canadian Embassy in Kabul. (Image: Embassy of Canada, Kabul, Afghanistan)

Canada plays a prominent role in military, cultural and in diplomatic affairs globally. Afghanistan is one of the South Asian countries  that  had maintained a long-standing relationship with Canada. On July 12, 2013, Her Excellency Deborah Lyons was named Canada’s Ambassador to the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. Canada has committed an additional $227 million in development assistance and $330 million to help sustain the Afghan National Security Forces in 2017. The Canada Fund for Local Initiatives (CFLI) is intended to help Civil Society Organizations build a more secure, stable and self-sufficient Afghanistan.

Canada – Bangladesh Relations

The political and diplomatic relations between Canada  and Bangladesh have been constantly strengthened and developed and are now better than ever. Growth in bilateral trade has increased more than threefold from (CAD) $478 million Canadian dollars in 2003 to nearly (CAD) $1.7 billion Canadian dollars in 2012. Bangladesh has become the second largest source of Canadian merchandise importer from South Asia, after India.

The Maldives, Nepal and Bhutan Relations with Canada

The Maldives and Canada established diplomatic relations on 14 December 1981. Canada has had diplomatic relations with the Maldives since 1981, when His Excellency Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, was the President of Maldives.

Canada officially established diplomatic relations with Nepal in 1965 and has since maintained friendly relations. The importance of foreign trade for Nepal has increased with Canada. Nepal’s exports to Canada are dominated by textile and apparel. Canada has a strong history of involvement in disaster relief. Canada played a vital role in Nepal Earthquake relief by pledging (CAD) over 5 million Canadian dollars to the devastated nation.

Formal diplomatic relations with Canada was a major step for the Royal Government of Bhutan in June 2003. Over the years through Canadian funded assistance programs, such as the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives (CFLI) had  assisted  many  projects in Bhutan. In recent years Canada has re-oriented its foreign policy towards South Asia and there is no doubt the relationship had improved tremendously.




February/March 2020

















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