Standing Committee on International Trade (CIIT)

This week, the Standing Committee on International Trade (CIIT) continued its study on the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) with India. Major trade industry leaders as well as esteemed academics spoke with the committee about their perspectives on a CEPA with India. The main themes discussed were: the timeliness of signing a CEPA, India’s heavily regulated industries, labour law enforcement in India, and adjusting expectations for what a CEPA may ultimately accomplish.

On February 25, the committee heard witness testimony from the heads of the Starling Corporation, The Indus Entrepreneurs, and the Canadian Livestock Genetics Association. The overall theme of the proceedings dealt with the current timing of passing a CEPA, as well as the regulations Canada may face in their dealings with India. The general sentiment was twofold: approving a CEPA with India needs to happen sooner rather than later given the time restrictions facing small and medium business owners in India, as well as the opportunities that will emerge for Canadian entrepreneurs. Having a CEPA would mean that new, small, and medium businesses could stay afloat given open access to broader markets.  Timing is also pressing given that other nations are competing for trade agreements with India; there is an understanding that India is a market that Canada could significantly profit from through engaging in a formalized trade agreement. To Indus Entrepreneurs, and the Canadian Livestock Genetics Association, the sooner an agreement is signed, the better off both nations will be considering the three years of ongoing CEPA negotiations.

That being said, Predeep Sood, CEO of the Starling Corporation spoke to the nonessential nature of a CEPA with India. Sood affirmed that a CEPA is not necessary with India as India has strong trade relations with other nations that are proximally better suited to fit India’s needs. To Sood, an overarching CEPA would be inefficient for India, as this CEPA does not take into account regional differences within the country. Sood agrees that a CEPA is a good idea, but believes there remains no need to rush into signing an agreement, and that more research into the markets needs to be done.

On February 27, the committee heard testimony from the Presidents and CEOs of Pulse Canada and Minaean International Corporation, as well as Dr. John Harriss of Simon Fraser University. Harriss has a strong background in the Indian economy and is a professor of international studies at SFU. The major themes fleshed out in this session dealt with labour law enforcement and adjusting general expectations for what a CEPA may accomplish. NDP MP Davies raised similar concerns in both sessions in regards to child labour in India and asked about improvements in work conditions. There was a general consensus among witnesses that while work conditions have improved and child labour laws exist, law enforcement is challenging. This challenge much to do with the regulatory structures, but perhaps equally as much to do with the culture of the Indian economy; some children feel the incentive to work and this pressure does not always come from their family, sometimes it is simply their personal desire to work.

Merchant trading statistics between Canada and India were sited several times this week. Merchant trading between Canada and India has tripled over the last two years, and there is a possibility that by 2015, Canada may hit their target of 15 billion, but there will be an uphill battle. Given that India’s formal industries are heavily regulated and gaining access to foreign direct investments, as well as foreign portfolio investment present their challenges, a CEPA would help mitigate those challenges.