India, Canada to talk nuclear deal, FTA today

India, Canada to talk nuclear deal, FTA today


Indian President Pratibha Patil, left, shakes hand with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the Rashtrapathi Bhavan in New Delhi, on Tuesday. Harper is on an official four-day long visit to India. AP

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper began his three-day visit to India from Mumbai on Monday where he exhorted business leaders to take bilateral trade and economic ties to a new level.

"Our countries share tremendous commercial interests and have great potential for increased trade," Harper said. "Between us, our GDP is well on its way to four trillion dollars. Yet at the moment, we are only doing five billion dollars worth of business per year."

The two sides plan to announce a joint working group for a free trade area agreement Tuesday after talks between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Harper.

The two sides are expected to focus on a slew of steps to scale up trade and investment, including a bilateral investment protection agreement during the talks.
The India-Canada CEOs Forum has recommended the creation of a free trade area between the two countries. 

"Conclusion of this agreement would signal to investors of both countries that direct investment can be made in a predictable and secure business environment," Harper said.  It is under consideration, official sources said.

The showpiece of Harper's visit to India was meant to be a bilateral civil nuclear agreement, which is expected to transform relations that turned frosty when Ottawa cut off atomic trade after New Delhi's 1974 nuclear test.

But the agreement may not be ready for signing by the time Manmohan Singh sits down for talks with Harper.

Harper struck a cautious note in a speech in Mumbai. "It is my sincere hope that our two governments will complete our bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement soon," he said.

"We are discussing a civil nuclear agreement. Last week, delegation-level talks between atomic officials took place," official sources said in New Delhi.

The nuclear deal will remove the one big issue that had estranged New Delhi from Ottawa all these years.

The prospects of a nuclear rapprochement brightened after Canada supported India in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) last year. Leading NSG members like the US, Russia and France have signed bilateral deals with India.

With the nuclear deal on mind, Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd's CEO, Hugh McDiarmid, and officials from Cameco, the leading uranium miner, are accompanying Harper to India.

Canada is also upbeat on promoting tourism between the two countries. Last year, 350,000 tourists from India and Canada visited each other's country.

Harper announced in Mumbai that the Canadian Tourism Commission would launch a campaign to attract more Indian travellers to Canada. He said Bollywood icon Akshay Kumar would travel to Canada and participate in the cross-country Olympic torch run. Kumar will carry the torch in Toronto on Dec 17.

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