Ties with India entering a 'new phase': Canadian Minister

Ottawa OCT. 22. On the eve of the Canadian Prime Minister, Jean Chretien's visit to India, Ottawa is convinced that its relationship with New Delhi is entering a "new phase" and that this has to be developed to its full potential.

"My trip and the Prime Minister's trip are designed to send a signal to everybody that we would like to move on in our relationship, develop it to the full potential we think it is capable of," says the Canadian Foreign Minister, Bill Graham, who was recently in India.

Talking to The Hindu over the telephone, Mr. Graham said that while Ottawa and New Delhi disagreed on the nuclear issue it was imperative to pursue other bilateral interests.

"For a long time India and Canada, at the official level, have been focussing on the disagreement we had about the nuclear issue on the Indian subcontinent. But in the last few years Canada has recognised India along with a couple of other emerging economies... is an extremely important trade and economic partner of Canada with tremendous potential," he noted.

Asked if Mr. Chretien would be talking to his Indian counterpart, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, about the conversation with Pakistan's President, Pervez Musharraf, during Gen. Musharraf's recent trip [to Canada], Mr. Graham replied: "Absolutely, as I did in my meeting with Yashwant Sinha."

"Mr. Musharraf was here recently. The [Canadian] Prime Minister had the opportunity to tell him that we... want Pakistan's cooperation both in ending any kind of help to terrorist activity in southern Afghanistan... but also we believe strongly that there should be no support for any kind of incursion across the Line of Control in Kashmir to destabilise the situation," Mr. Graham said.

During his talks with Mr. Vajpayee, the Canadian Prime Minister would focus, among other things, on south India's role in Information Technology and in the recognition that Canada would have to increase its representation in India "in a way to have a better contact in the southern region."

Ottawa, according to Mr. Graham, is keen on upgrading its representation in Mumbai and wants to open "some form of an office" in Chennai.

"There are some extraordinary opportunities in South Asia. But there are some very strong challenges as well. The opportunities are largely economic," he said. Canada would soon have a Free Trade Agreement with Singapore "which will give us a window of opportunity" in the region, he added.

"We are seeking to intensify our economic relationship with India... The liberalisation of the banking sector and the financial sector in India will present opportunities," Mr. Graham said adding that trade and investment was a two-way process.

Mr. Chretien would be bringing to India a desire for an engagement at the "highest levels of Indian society" that went beyond the contact at political levels to people-to-people contact through the extensive network of Indians in Canada, Mr. Graham said.

Canada is keen on working with India on issues of regional security, nuclear and missile proliferation. "While we disagree on the nuclear matter in the Indian subcontinent itself, we can probably work on nuclear proliferation when it comes to countries like Iran," he said.

"So there is no end to the possibilities of cooperation. What was lacking before was political will to search out for those opportunities for cooperation."

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