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Trade talks between India and Canada could be gathering pace as commerce minister Piyush Goyal, his Canadian counterpart Mary Ng and their chief negotiators held trade talks on the sidelines of the World Trade Organization (WTO) ministerial in Geneva.

Both sides have held two rounds of talks since New Delhi and Ottawa relaunched trade negotiations in March after a gap of nearly a decade and will begin the third round next month, said Canadian high commissioner Cameron Mackay in an interview.

Talks are at an early stage but a trade deal could be sealed if there is real political will, Mackay said. Canada shares India’s sensitivity towards dairy imports, he said. Edited excerpts:

How sustainable could India-Canada trade relationship be since negotiations are taking place when Canada’s relationship with China has deteriorated and supply chains globally are getting readjusted?

The mantra for Canada’s trade policy is diversification. We have very considerable trade with the US. We have very important trade with the EU, Japan, and China as well as many other countries. The Indian economy is growing so quickly and there’s so much potential here and we have so much complementarity between the two economies that we see India as a really important country for Canada’s trade diversification strategy.

At what stage is the India-Canada FTA negotiation? Are we looking at an FTA or an early harvest?

Since our trade ministers relaunched negotiations this March, we’ve had two rounds of negotiations, and the third one is being scheduled for the coming months. We’re still in the relatively early stages of the negotiation.

Bilateral trade negotiations are like climbing a mountain, so you’re tied together with your partner and you’re trying to get to the peak. And as you go up, you can only get to the top with your partner. It is always the last few 100 metres that are the most difficult. So you start at the bottom and it’s relatively easier. The higher you get, the harder it gets. We are still sort of at the bottom of the mountain. However, if we’re both committed, if there’s real political will, we absolutely can do it.

We are making much better progress this time than we did 10 years ago. But there will be some very difficult issues to cross as we move ahead.

How would you respond to concerns that developed nations do not understand developing nations and their priorities, especially when they seek full market access?

We actually have considerable experience in negotiating trade agreements, including with developing countries. Canada already has FTAs in the Americas, for example Colombia and Peru. So we’re very experienced negotiating with developing as well as developed countries.

Will oil and gas exports to India be part of the plan to counter Russian oil in India?

Almost all of our oil goes to the US into refineries in Texas and then on to global markets from there. Indian Oil and some Indian companies did import a few consignments of Canadian crude in the past. In the absence of a state-owned crude oil supplier in Canada, Indian importers are unable to get into a long term supply contract with Canadian suppliers of crude, which is a requirement stipulated by the Indian authorities.

(Dilasha Seth contributed to the story)

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