Unlimited flights between India and Canada given green light

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Previously each country was limited to 35 flights per week

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Transport Minister Omar Alghabra announced that the government will allow an unlimited number of flights from designated airlines between Canada and India, significantly expanding a deal that previously limited each country to 35 flights per week.

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“This is great news for the people of Canada and for the businesses of Canada,” Alghabra said after he announced the amended deal at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport.

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government is betting increased access to one of the world’s biggest and fastest-growing economies will be good for trade and investment. The agreement gives designated airlines access to Bangalore, Chennai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Kolkata, and Mumbai, while Indian air carriers get access to Toronto, Montreal, Edmonton, Vancouver, and “two additional points to be selected by India,” the government said a statement on Nov. 14.

Air Canada is the only designated carrier that can fly to Indian cities but other domestic carriers can seek designation status, the minister said.

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“By making the movement of goods and people faster and easier, this expanded agreement will continue to facilitate trade and investment between Canada and India and help our businesses grow and succeed,” Alghabra said.

Removing the cap on flights represents an “important piece of the puzzle” in Canada’s pursuit of a comprehensive trade agreement with India, said Rohinton Medhora, a distinguished fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation, a think-tank. “It’s the symbolism that Canada and India take their economic relations seriously,” he said.

Starting with former prime minister Stephen Harper, Canada has attempted multiple times to reach a trade deal with India to no success. Canada and India have been trying to rekindle ties this year after relations between Trudeau’s government and Narendra Modi’s regime hit a rough patch a few years ago over New Delhi’s concern that Ottawa was soft on the separatist movement in the state of Punjab. In March, the two countries “relaunched” negotiations over a trade agreement.

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Geopolitical forces also could be at work, as democratic countries such as Canada have begun more aggressively courting India to counter the growing influence of China and the erratic behaviour of nuclear-armed Russia, which invaded Ukraine in February. Last week, Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said at the University of Toronto that China is becoming “an increasingly disruptive, global power” and that Canada will deepen links with India.

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Alghabra said Monday’s announcement “has nothing to do with China.”

Ottawa and New Delhi first reached an agreement on air transport services in 1982, and before Monday’s refreshed deal, it was last expanded in 2011 under Canada’s Blue Sky Policy. The policy, adopted in 2006, set out a framework to guide Canada in pursuing bilateral deals that boost the country’s economy through expanded international air travel for everyone from tourists to entrepreneurs.

India’s consul general, Apoorva Srivastava, said at the Pearson press conference that the expanded agreement is an “important development” in the countries’ bilateral dealings, underlining that the foundation of the Canada-India relationship is the “strong people-to-people” ties.

“We have a large Indian diaspora here. Apart from that, we have 700,000 Indian citizens living and working here in Canada,” Srivastava said. “Indian students form the largest chunk of international students coming and studying in Canada. We currently have 230,000 and a lot more ready to come to Canada for educational purposes.”

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