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Indo-Canadian roots for India

As part of Canada's look-east policy, Deepak Obhrai will push for an FTA with India, writes Gurmukh Singh.

india Updated: Feb 11, 2006 21:33 IST

The only South Asian, rather Indian face in the newly-installed Conservative government in Canada, Deepak Obhrai, says he will vigorously push for a free trade agreement with India.

Obhrai will serve as Parliamentary Secretary to Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay, with special emphasis on Asia-Pacific and Africa.

"I am extremely honoured to have received this appointment from Prime Minister Harper... I am very pleased to be working with my good friend Peter MacKay," Obhrai said after his swearing-in on Monday.

"As this is a reduced cabinet of 27 ministers, from the 38 under the previous Liberal government, and there being no secretaries of state positions, parliamentary secretaries will be playing a vital role in government," Obhrai said.

"They will give direct inputs to the ministers concerned. So, I look forward to working with the minister and the Department of Foreign Affairs, and all members of parliament to advance Canada’s place in the world," he added.

Obhrai said his responsibility assumed greater significance in the light of the fact that Peter MacKay is not only the minister for foreign affairs but also in charge of Atlantic Canada.

"Peter has a dual role... so in that sense my responsibility to assist him in foreign affairs assumes greater significance. I will look after the South Asia and Pacific region and Africa. I come from India and I worked in Africa. So, I have a lot of knowledge about these regions."

As part of Canada's look-east policy, Obhrai said his government will push for closer economic ties with India and China which are the two emerging giants in the world.

"As for India, we have only bilateral agreements so far... now is the need for a free trade agreement to take advantage of these Asian markets. Which means that exports and imports are not subjected to high tariffs," he said.

The four-time MP for Calgary East, Obhrai said he would work to strengthen pro-India initiatives taken in the past.

"I started the parliamentary friendship group to promote closer ties with India in 2003. I am going to work to strengthen it further. India matters a lot in our scheme of things," he added.

Obhrai said that his inclusion in the Stephen Harper cabinet has given a voice to the South Asian community.

"The South Asian community has contributed hugely to the Tory victory. So my inclusion in the ministry gives them a voice. I had a long chat with my prime minister ... we appreciate what the Indo-Canadians and other Asian communities have done for us."

Before the ministry was formed, more than a hundred letters were sent by the south Asian community across the country to Stephen Harper to include Obhrai in the cabinet.

"Though Harper had already offered me this role, I am thankful that our community wants to be part of the decision-making process. I will work to bring the community into the Tory fold. Frankly, a lot needs to be done to address their problems—racism and institutional discrimination."

Hoping that the minority government will last for at least two years, Obhrai said, "Whenever the next election takes place, we will return with a clear majority."

First Published: Feb 11, 2006 21:33 IST