The United Arab Emirates will soon require visas from Canadian visitors - a move that appears to be the latest salvo in a dispute between Canada and the wealthy union of Persian Gulf sheikdoms.
A notice posted Monday on the website of the UAE embassy in Ottawa says: "Effective January 02, 2011 Canadian Passport holders will need a visa."
Currently, Canadians and travellers from 30 other countries including the United States, Australia, France, and Japan may enter the UAE with nothing more than a passport.
The UAE embassy could not confirm Monday whether Canadians had been singled out for the visa requirement. But Canada has been engaged with the UAE in a dispute over landing rights at domestic airports that has cost this country its secret military supply base in Dubai.
Canadian troops were forced to pull out of Camp Mirage last week in retaliation for the federal government's refusal to allow UAE carriers Emirates and Etihad Airways to land more often at Canadian airports.
A Conservative official has confirmed that the closure of the base will cost an estimated $300-million and the Canadian government is still trying to find a replacement for the hub that was the main supply point for the military mission in Afghanistan.
"The Conservative government's incompetence has turned minor problems in Canada-UAE relations into a crisis," said Paul Dewar, the Foreign Affairs critic for the NDP.
"This is an unprecedented step that will have a major impact on travel and business between Canada and the UAE. Last week, it cost our military $300-million to scramble out of our base in the UAE - now this. The government has to be held accountable for its failure to maintain what used to be a strong relationship between Canada and UAE."
Fen Hampson, the director, Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University in Ottawa, said the fight between the two countries has gotten out of hand. "This is unwarranted escalation of a low-grade trade dispute," Dr. Hampson said.
The UAE is trying to make Dubai a global hub and is using the state-owned carriers to take on the competition, he said. Likewise, he said, Air Canada, which opposed granting more landing slots to the UAE planes, enjoys various forms of indirect subsidies.
"This is a battle of national champions in that our government is defending the interests of Air Canada and the UAE is trying to take on Air Canada in what are potentially very lucrative routes to its part of the world," Dr. Hampson said.
But the UAE may have shot itself in the foot if the visa requirement deters Canadian visitors, he said, because whenever a country engages in retaliatory actions it should ask if it will hurt its own interests more than those of its opponent.
"Dubai is suffering as a tourist destination," Dr. Hampson said. "The economy is not doing well there. A lot of investment is leaving. So it's a place that's on the ropes. And, if you have differences with Canada on this issue, you should keep negotiating. You don't resort to linkage tactics of the kind that they did with the airbase."
The Canadian government had been using the base for free for nine years. But leaving is complicated - there are huge logistical issues including moving equipment and now having to factor in fuel costs for the longer routes between Afghanistan and the alternative bases in Germany and Cyprus.