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Canada’s foreign minister visiting India from Jan 11

By Gurmukh Singh, IANS

Toronto : Canadian Minister for Foreign Affairs Maxime Bernier will visit India Jan 11-12 to hold wide-ranging talks with his Indian counterpart Pranab Mukherjee on bilateral relations and global issues.

The two ministers will also discuss the situation in India’s neighbourhood, including the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the Canadian mission against the Taliban in Afghanistan, the repression of human rights by the military junta in Myanmar, and the recent political events in Nepal and Sri Lanka.

Bernier will also call on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who has been invited for a visit to Canada by Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The two prime ministers had met at the Kampala Commonwealth summit where Singh had accepted Harper’s invitation to visit Canada.

Deepak Obhrai, the Indo-Canadian MP and parliamentary secretary to Bernier, will also accompany the minister during his trip to India.

“This is the first high-level visit to India by the Conservative government minister. This shows how important India is to Canada today. We will discuss how we can further boost the burgeoning trade and political ties between our two countries,” Obhrai told IANS.

Asked whether any agreement will be signed during the visit, Obhrai said,“No, this visit is to raise our relationship to a higher level.”

As part of its Look East Policy and the Pacific Gateway Strategy, formulated over the past three years, Canada is shifting focus of its trade away from the US and deepening business ties with India, China, Japan and South Korea.

With India, which faced Canadian sanctions after the 1998 nuclear explosions, it has signed landmark agreements in the last three years. In Sept 2005, the two countries signed the Agreement for Scientific and Technological Cooperation in New Delhi. In June 2007, they signed the Foreign Investment and Protection Agreement (FIPA) which will ensure protection to investors in each other’s market.

With the two-way trade, which stands at about $5 billion now, likely to double in the next three years, Canadians are pushing for a free trade agreement with India to take advantage of its booming market.

“As a world leader in oil and gas resources, engineering, construction and manufacturing, Canada sees huge opportunities in India as the South Asian nation needs billions of dollars for infrastructure development in the coming years,” Obhrai said.