Free trade pact with India by 2013: Canada PM

By Gurmukh Singh, IANS,

Toronto : India figured prominently in the heat of the Canadian election campaign Thursday when Prime Minister Stephen Harper said that if his party is returned power, he will hasten the signing of free trade agreements with New Delhi and the European Union.

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Speaking at a campaign stop in Halifax in eastern Canada, Harper said his government would set firm deadlines for wrapping up free-trade talks with India and the European Union.

Harper promised that the free trade agreement with the European Union will be signed by next year and with India by 2013.

“Canada is a trading nation. That’s why since taking office we have made expanding and improving access to foreign markets such a priority,” said the prime minister, wooing voters for his Conservative Party for the May 2 general elections to elect the country’s 41st parliament.

Harper’s government has made India a priority nation for deepening trade ties after he took power in 2006. He helped lift nuclear embargo on India by voting for New Delhi at the Nuclear Suppliers Group in 2009.

The Canadian prime minister also signed the nuclear deal with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh when the latter visited Canada for the G-20 summit last June.

During Harper’s visit to India in November 2009, he started talks on a comprehensive economic partnership agreement (CEPA) to take their commercial ties in trade and services to higher levels.

The two-way trade between India and Canada is currently about $5 billion and the two countries plan to triple it by 2015.

Once signed, the CEPA will give preferential access to the two markets. It will eliminate tariffs on most goods, create opportunities in services, set rules in investment and cut non-tariff barriers.

After the free trade agreement, Canadian exports – forest products, nickel, aircraft, electrical machinery, fish and seafood products and agricultural products (cereals, lentils) – will get free access to the Indian market.

India’s exports of precious stones, diamonds, jewellry and apparel to Canada are also expected to rise substantially after the agreement is signed.

To deepen economic engagement with India, Harper’s government has also opened four new trade offices in India.

(Gurmukh Singh can be contacted at [email protected])