Canada-US Trade Partnership: A Model For Pakistan And India

Learning from the cooperative dynamics between Canada and the US, India and Pakistan have the opportunity to strengthen their ties

Canada-US Trade Partnership: A Model For Pakistan And India

Canada and the United States share the longest land border in the world, about 9,000km long.  There are no walls, fences or barbwires along the border. No soldiers are deployed to defend the border. However, civilian law enforcement personnel on both sides monitor the border to ensure that people cross the border through legal crossing points only. Survey markers mark most of the length of the border only.

The two nations have lived harmoniously for more than two centuries. In a 1961 address before the Canadian parliament, President John F. Kennedy famously said: “Geography has made us neighbours. History has made us friends. Economics has made us partners, and necessity has made us allies. Those whom God has so joined together, let no man put asunder.” 
Those powerful four words – neighbours, friends, partners, and allies – have since become the four pillars on which the relationship structure between the two nations has only further solidified.

The border runs through all types of terrains: the Great Lakes, the Saint Lawrence Seaway, and other bodies of water. There are no disputes between the two countries regarding borders. A bi-nation International Boundary Commission deals with matters relating to marking and maintaining the boundary, and the International Joint Commission deals with issues concerning the management of boundary waters.

Canada and the US are each other’s largest trading partners. In 2022, the total trade volume between the two countries was about $960 billion or more than $2.6 billion each day of the year. Most of this trade flows through more than 100 land border crossings across the length of the border. On any given day, one can see long lines of trucks on both sides of a border crossing, waiting to be processed to cross the border. The trade volume has grown so much that both governments are under pressure from the trucking industry to build additional crossings to ease congestion at the border. 

In addition, thousands of citizens of both countries cross the border daily for business, work, or pleasure.

Trade disputes do arise now and then. They are dealt with through the dispute resolution mechanisms built into the trade agreements. Occasionally, higher levels of officials and politicians get involved in resolving contentious issues.

There is close cooperation between the two countries in many sectors, such as academic research, science and technology, public health, pharmaceuticals, law enforcement, and military. A bi-national organization, North American Aerospace Defense Command or NORAD, based in Colorado, monitors and controls North American airspace for any threats.

For Canada, its close relationship with its much bigger and more powerful neighbour has paid off on the international stage in terms of its membership, with US support, in several important blocs such as G7, G20, Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), and Five Eyes, an intelligence-sharing agreement, which was originally between the US and the UK. Australia and New Zealand also joined later. Both the US and Canada are also NATO members because of their exposure to the North Atlantic Ocean.

Despite its close relationship with the much bigger and more powerful partner, Canada has been able to maintain its sovereignty over international matters and does not always follow the US' lead on international affairs. For example, in 2002, despite pressure from the Bush administration, Canada declined to join the US-led coalition to invade Iraq.

General elections are coming up soon in both countries – so the timing is right for the voters to demand from the political parties how they intend to normalise the relations between the two neighbours

By any measure, the close bond between Canada and the US has produced economic stability, prosperity, and security for both countries within the secure borders of North America. More importantly, for more than two centuries, the peace between the two countries has not broken.

Now imagine replacing the names of the two countries in the above partnership with Pakistan and India. 

Imagine if, in addition to just being neighbours, Pakistan and India also become friends, trading partners, and allies to ensure regional security.  If this relationship becomes half as good as that of Canada and the US, the people of both nations win big time.

Pakistan and India, too, are neighbours sharing a land border more than 3,000km long. There is a long history between the people of the two countries, as they were part of British India and lived together before the partition in 1947. Many communities on both sides of the border share the same ethnicity, culture, traditions, and language. Together, they suffered the brutalities and injustices of British colonialism.

For more than 75 years since the partition, the two countries have remained at odds on several issues involving borders, sharing of waters, and interference in each other's affairs. Three generations have grown up on both sides, distrusting each other. So much has been lost because of this standoff, and nothing has been gained.

Together, they can form a powerful economic bloc of 1.4 billion people in India and 250 million in Pakistan, rivalling that of Canada and the US. Unlike Western countries, where their economies face serious growth challenges in the future because of the ageing population, more than 65 percent of the population in both Pakistan and India is below the age of 35. This provides a reliable and steady pool of human capital for the workforce and economic growth.

Trade between Pakistan and India has been minimal and on an ad hoc basis. In 2018, before the trade was suspended between the two countries, the total bilateral trade volume was a paltry $2 billion or less than half a percent of their combined global trade volume.  In comparison, Canada-US bilateral trade volume in 2022 was more than 10 percent of their combined global trade volume. Both countries are missing out on significant markets with easy access on the other side of the border. 

The resumption of trade can give a significant boost to their respective economies. As recently as in September 2023, a major trade group based in Amritsar, Punjab, urged the Union government in New Delhi to reopen the trade route through Attari crossing and resume trade with Pakistan, as the local businesses have been suffering since the trade was suspended a few years ago. Investment opportunities may also open up for businesses on either side of the border.

Imagine trucks rolling through the Wagah or Attari border crossing points and Sikh pilgrims routinely travelling to their shrines on either side of the border. Imagine young scientists and engineers in academic institutions collaborating with their counterparts on the other side of the border to solve common problems. Imagine journalists, writers, and intellectuals engaging with their counterparts on the other side. Imagine cricket teams of both countries visiting each other to continue the friendly rivalry that is the hallmark of any international cricket tournament. The possibilities are endless.

Some naysayers might seem sceptical about this, saying there is just too much bad blood between the two nations, and nothing will happen unless the other side first does this or that. But if they consider the alternative, which is simply the continuation of the status quo for an indefinite period, they will likely come around and make an effort. For the most contentious issues, it is fine to agree to disagree with each other and park them for future consideration. As the Canada-US partnership has demonstrated, some issues are relatively easier to resolve as friends than foes.  

What is needed is bold and courageous leadership in both countries to take the initiative. General elections are coming up soon in both countries – so the timing is right for the voters to demand from the political parties how they intend to normalize the relations between the two neighbours. Youth, who comprise more than 65 percent of the population, are in particular fed up with the never-ending and meaningless acrimony between the two nations. They want to look forward, not backwards.

It is time for our grownups to grow up for the sake of our younger generation. 

The writer is a retired engineer based in Canada, and has a keen interest in Pakistan’s political affairs. He can be reached at: