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India urged to fast-track ties with Canada

world Updated: Dec 14, 2009 12:00 IST

With Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his top ministers visiting India this year, the influential Indo-Canadian community has stepped up its demand for reciprocal visits by Indian leaders to fast-track ties between the countries.

They have also demanded the appointment of Indo-Canadian experts to positions being created by Canada in India to boost trade ties.

Welcoming the Canadian prime minister to sign the nuclear deal with India, community leaders said India should act now by paying more attention to Canada by undertaking frequent ministerial visits.

Though almost all top Canadian ministers have visited India since January, not a single Indian minister, barring Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia, has visited Canada this year.

In fact, no Indian prime minister has visited Canada since Inder Kumar Gujral in the late nineties.

"When Manmohan Singh came to Washington this month, he should have visited Canada even for a few hours. Canadian leaders have done their job, and now Indians must pay attention to this country," said an Indo-Canadian businessman, requesting anonymity.

"Three or four Indian ministers should visit Canada before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh comes here for the G20 summit in June," he said.

He said Indo-Canadian business and cultural bodies like the Indo-Canada Chamber of Commerce and the Canada-India Foundation, and the Indian high commission should lobby hard to bring Indian leaders.

However, Naresh Raghubeer, an Indo-Canadian said: "A lot more needs to be done than mere cosmetic visits by political leaders." Canadians will have to build a relationship with the Indian bureaucracy.

"They (Indian bureaucrats) don't trust Canada after Ottawa imposed sanctions after their nuclear tests. They will receive you warmly, but don't trust you," he said.

Raghubeer said there is also anti-India bias in the Canadian bureaucracy. "They don't want real engagement with India. Look, Canada has just one-and-a half visa offices in India (in Delhi and Chandigarh), compared to four in China."

"Canada should treat India the way they treat China where they have 20-odd trade offices compared to just a few in India which are poorly staffed."

Slamming the so-called Canadian experts, he said, "These people don't understand how can there be real engagement?"

Kam Rathee, former president of Canada-India Business Council (C-IBC), added, "Canada had plans to appoint some key (Indo-Canadian) people as 'trade ambassadors' to promote trade with India, but it never happened."

"Opening more trade offices (by Canada) is not enough because these will be manned by civil servants from the high commission. But Canadians should work with bodies like the C-IBC which have a track record." Rathee said the nuclear deal will give impetus to Canada-India trade. "But it will take time. India was ignored for long by the previous regimes and left-wing leaders who were against India."