Canada had banned the trading of nuclear materials with India since 1976. However, with the finalisation of the civil nuclear deal between both sides last year by both prime ministers, Manmohan Singh and Stephen Harper, Canada is now planning to invest heavily in India’s thriving nuclear market. High Commissioner Stewart Beck tells Nayanima Basu that it is also seeking collaborations for building nuclear reactors across the country. Edited excerpts:
How soon can we expect the civilian nuclear deal to get implemented?
Our nuclear history is now behind us . All is done. It will be implemented as soon as we sign it. It is not a treaty, so we do not have to go through the treaty process as such. Both sides are committed to get it done in as expeditious manner as possible. However, I would not like to point out a date on the actual signing of the agreement. It could be next month or who knows it could be later. But the point is the text has been concluded and there are no negotiations left to happen. It is now only the process that needs to be done.
India has taken major strides in clinching civilian nuclear deals with some key countries like the US, Australia and France. The nuclear market is likely to be competitive in the coming years. How do you think Canada will position itself?
The US has not concluded its administration process on the agreement yet; the Australians have not yet started the negotiations. So, we do have some opportunity related to others. Also, the Americans do not sell uranium. Here, it is a different set of competitiveness and we stand a good chance. We have a very high quality of uranium that we can sell to India. The question will be of price. I think Canadian companies would have to roll up their sleeves and negotiate good pricing.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper had said in November that the deal was going to provide economic opportunity to Canadian industry. How does Canadian industry plan to capitalise this opportunity?
On the suppliers side, we have good opportunity because we have a very strong nuclear supplier industry in Canada. There are several Canadian Uranium suppliers which are eager to sell to the nuclear industry here. They will be in an advantageous position because a lot of indigenous technology here is based on Canadian technology. I would assume our suppliers will have a good opportunity here.
We are also looking at the opportunity in building new reactors where we can see collaborations taking place through Candu reactors.
We will be also interested in participating in bids for building reactors in India.
The talks for having a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) between both countries have gone on slightly longer than expected. What are the main stumbling blocks?
Both Prime Ministers (Manmohan Singh and Stephen Harper) agreed to conclude the CEPA deal by the end of this year. Negotiations are negotiations, question is how much ambitious we want it to be. Both sides would like to see an ambitious deal. There is a lot that can be negotiated. But if there is a will there is a way to come to some sort of an agreement. In February we are going to have seventh round of negotiations (in Delhi) and that will give us a pretty good indication.
You said a lot is yet left to be negotiated. What are those?
We are now down to two areas of negotiations. There are still some issues left on what will be included in the sort of goods offered by the Indian side and how far will we go on the Canadian side on the movement of people which is something that India wants. Those are the two most critical issues.
The government has finally decided to delay roll out of the controversial general anti-avoidance rule (GAAR). What is the reaction of the Canadian industry due to this?
This is a good signal for investors. These are things that the government is now doing to change the perception about India and making it a welcoming market as opposed to an unwelcoming market for investment.
How eager Canadian retail chains are to invest in India now that the government has allowed foreign investment in multibrand retail segment?
Many Canadian retailers are indeed looking at the market with interest now but that does not mean they would necessarily invest. I think more has to be done by the Indian government although the message has gone out.