The visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Vancouver highlights the growing importance of India as a trading partner and comes several years after B.C. became the first province in Canada to adopt an "Asia strategy."
Business and political leaders are hoping British Columbia's efforts to court India – which began in earnest when the province launched its Asia initiative in 2007 with a flurry of trade missions and the opening of three investment offices in India – will now start to pay off.
Mr. Modi's delegation was scheduled to visit the Sikh temple on Ross Street and Laxmi Narayan mandir, a Hindu temple in Surrey on Thursday, in addition to attending a state dinner with Prime Minister Stephen Harper at a Vancouver hotel. But outside the high-profile public events, efforts are under way to build stronger economic links.
Stewart Beck, Canada's former high commissioner in India, says B.C.'s relationship with India spans a number of critical areas – and is aided by a large diaspora community. From state-owned Indian Oil Corp. Ltd.'s 10-per-cent stake in the Petronas-led Pacific NorthWest liquefied natural gas project, to Bollywood's connection to B.C.'s film industry, the last few years have seen the relationship strengthen.
Splashy events such as the Times of India Film Awards – which brought Bollywood's premier awards show to Vancouver in 2013 – and Premier Christy Clark's trade missions to the subcontinent have helped raise the profile, he said.
"The B.C.-India relationship has grown remarkably in the last few years," says Mr. Beck, who is the current head of the Vancouver-based Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada. "What I liked about the last [trade] mission I was on, was they were quite focused on what they wanted to achieve – the film and production people, the oil and gas side."
And as India modernizes and builds out its infrastructure, enabling the country to improve its capacity for shipping food around the country, there could be a huge opportunity for the province's seafood exporters, he said.
Mr. Beck suggests B.C. could also replicate the success it has seen in China by selling wood-frame construction materials in India – as well as wood more generally, for window frames and doors – as the country's growing middle class buys houses, and its massive real-estate companies build vast new housing complexes for India's population of nearly 1.3 billion people.
B.C. has long recognized the importance of trade with India, but the province didn't put together a coherent initiative until the Asia strategy was formulated in 2007 by the Liberal government, then led by Gordon Campbell.
The strategy focused on the need to build economic, cultural and personal ties with several Asian countries, but it identified India as an emerging economic power that was due for increased attention.
Among the key goals were the building of a global identity for B.C. as Canada's Pacific Gateway and the strengthening of B.C.'s trade and investment relationships.
Among other things trade offices were opened in Bangalore, where India's biotechnology sector is concentrated, in Mumbai, the financial and business centre, and in Chandigarh, the capital of Punjab and home of the majority of Indian immigrants to B.C.
B.C. Finance Minister Michael de Jong said the market opportunities are expanding as India, on track to have the world's third largest economy by 2020, becomes more prosperous, but if opportunities are to be seized Mr. Modi will have to continue to clear away trade barriers.
"It was not that long ago that tariffs existed at a level that made it very difficult to gain entry to that market. I don't think India is there yet. I don't think they are where they need to be in terms of reducing some of those tariff and non-tariff barriers, but they have come a long way," said Mr. de Jong. "It seems clear that Prime Minister Modi and his government are interested in pushing harder in that regard."