India's top diplomat touts improved relations with Canada, open to sending more vaccines
OTTAWA -- India's top diplomat to Canada says relations between the two countries are in a "much better space" and that improvement could open the door to more AstraZeneca vaccines, should Canada request them.
Speaking to CTV News, India's High Commissioner Ajay Bisaria said that the two countries are on better footing following a February phone call between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi. During the call Trudeau asked India for help boosting Canada's vaccine supply, and it was a conversation that Bisaria described as "very warm" and "very friendly."
"We have had some difficult and candid conversations but this is what strategic partners should be doing," Bisaria said. "We believe there is a much greater understanding in Canada now across the political spectrum on India's handling of the farm's protest in which a great deal of disinformation had been spread earlier."
For months, farmers in India have been living in tents on the outskirts of Delhi, protesting new laws passed in September by the Modi government to deregulate wholesale trading. The farmers say the new laws will devastate their livelihoods and allow big companies to drive down prices. The government, however, insist the reforms are long overdue and will modernize the agriculture industry by giving farmers greater freedom over who they can sell their products to and for what price.
In December, Trudeau said he was "concerned" about the treatment of farmers and that Canada would always support the right of farmers to protest peacefully. His statement prompted a sharp rebuke from India's Foreign Affairs Ministry, which called out Canada's "interference," threatened that continued actions by Canada would have a "seriously damaging impact on ties" and even summoned Canada's High Commissioner to India.
The High Commissioner's comments come a day after 500,000 doses of AstraZeneca's vaccine from India's Serum Institute – the largest drug manufacturer in the world – arrived in Toronto. In total, India is scheduled to deliver two million doses to Canada by the end of May.
The Prime Minister's Office would not discuss exactly what the prime minister said during his February phone call with Modi, or whether he softened his stance with India in order to help secure doses of that country's locally-made AstraZeneca vaccine. Instead, the PMO referred to a public readout provided after the bilateral call which only mentions "recent protests, and the importance of resolving issues through dialogue" as topics of discussions.
Asked about the status of Canada-India relations today and why India provided Canada with AstraZeneca vaccines, Bisaria suggested the deal was an attempt to start smoothing over relations that have been strained at times over the last few years, including as a result of Trudeau's troubled 2018 India trip.
"India has the capacity and the ability to provide more vaccines," Bisaria said. "Certainly the vaccine diplomacy, as you called it, and vaccine sharing is a part of India's approach."
While no discussions are currently ongoing with Canada for more doses, India's vaccine diplomacy has led to tens of millions of doses being shipped to countries from Cambodia to Afghanistan and Nepal. Experts say that like China, India is using the vaccines as a diplomatic tool to find favour or even thaw frosty relationships with other countries.
"India is proud of its position as the pharmacy of the world and now as a major vaccine maker in the world," Bisaria said, adding the country is "very aware of its and conscious of its global responsibility of being part of the global vaccine solutions."
CTV News has reached out to Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau's office for comment.
The Prime Minister's Office refused to provide an official statement.