Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Court India vigorously

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Prime Minister Stephen Harper should vigorously pursue the sales effort he started this week in India. Canada has every reason to hope for rapid expansion of its extremely modest trade with India, but that is unlikely to come about until Canada makes itself better known among Indian entrepreneurs and public officials.

This country has for years assiduously cultivated trade relations with China, resulting in trade totaling $65 billion. Canadian imports from China at $48 billion a year far exceed China's $17 billion of purchases from this country. Total trade with India, meanwhile, is a mere $5 billion a year, roughly balanced in the two directions.

The two Asian giants are close in population -- China at 1.3 billion people, India at 1.2 billion -- and are enjoying rates of economic growth that Europe and North America can only dream of. People from both countries constitute important minorities in Canada.

Canada and India, however, should be much closer partners than the trade figures suggest. They share the English language and a British legal tradition. They are both democratic countries with competing political parties and regular elections that lead to changes of government. Their people enjoy wide freedom of expression and are not subject to the kind of repression that is routinely seen in China. Political dissidents freely walk the streets and proclaim their messages in a way that is unheard of in China.

Canada and India quarrelled over nuclear energy in the time of former prime ministers Pierre Trudeau and Indira Gandhi. India built and tested a nuclear weapon in 1974, apparently with material produced from a reactor it had built, with Canadian help, supposedly for peaceful purposes. Canada felt betrayed and demanded controls on use of its nuclear technology. India felt insulted by the demands.

India needs post-secondary education for its rapidly growing middle class; oil and natural gas to power expanding industries; electric power technology for its growing cities; and reliable telecommunications networks. Canada can help with these goods and services. Canada, meanwhile, needs consumer products from India's low-wage manufacturing.

Canada's relations with China have been nurtured over many decades. Decades of neglect of relations with India will not be reversed quickly, but this week's visit by Mr. Harper can only help. For some Indian public officials, Canada is known mainly as the home of a Sikh separatist group and the source of the 1985 attack on an Air India jetliner over the North Atlantic. The two countries need some other, better memories to lay alongside those painful ones.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 7, 2012 A10

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