India a priority country, says Canada’s Liberal party leader

February 21st, 2008 - 1:48 pm ICT by admin  

By Gurmukh Singh
Toronto, Feb 21 (IANS) Canada’s prime minister-in-waiting Stephane Dion has promised to make India a “priority” if his Liberal party wins the next election due any time. Delivering a keynote address on “Canada and India: Natural Business Partners”, organised by the Canada-India Business Council (CIBC) here Wednesday, Dion said Canada could not afford to be left behind in seizing the huge opportunity India offered.

To help Canadian businesses forge better ties with India and South Asia, Dion said his government would set up a South Asian Foundation of Canada. It would be allocated $50 million to promote trade, social, cultural and political ties with India and South Asia, he said.

“Canada is in an enviable position to build upon our strong, long-lasting relationships with the countries of South Asia,” he said.

“We have large, vibrant communities that have maintained close family ties with South Asian countries like India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. We have a dedicated, knowledgeable business community ready to capitalise on the wealth of opportunities these booming economies present,” he said.

Citing India as an example for the world, Dion said it showed that it was possible to be a truly democratic nation even before being a fully developed one.

“I have the highest respect for India. It has a thriving middle class of more than 300 million, and Canada businesses should take advantage of this huge market,” he said.

Currently India is Canada’s 14th largest export market, and Canada is the 22nd largest export market for India, he said, adding that there is a huge potential for growth.

With the US economy in downturn, he added, “If Canada, as a major trading nation, wishes to remain competitive in the global marketplace we must continue to seek out new markets for our goods and services.”

Dion wondered why Canada attracted only 2,500 Indian students each year when 160,000 went abroad for higher studies.

With its world-class universities, he said, Canada should lure many more Indian students.

CIBC president Kam Rathee said India offered a huge opportunity for Canada. The government should fund business bodies to facilitate businesses and companies from the two countries to come together.

Peter Sutherland, former Canadian high commissioner to India, regretted that the efforts of business leaders were not being backed by political efforts.

He said former prime ministers Jean Chretien and Paul Martin visited India in quick succession and signed many agreements, but regretted that current Prime Minister Stephen Harper has paid no attention to India.

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