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competing to win

Cars are seen at a parking lot in Gurgaon, in the northern Indian state of Haryana. Auto manufacturing is just one of the global industries bullish on the future of business in India.

William Polushin is founding director of the Program for International Competitiveness at the Desautels Faculty of Management, McGill University, and President of AMAXIS, an international business and operational development services firm. The Competing to Win blog series can be found here.

A good friend of mine from Edmonton (thank you, Colin) sent me an e-mail a couple of days ago with the following quotation at the end of his message:

Dear Optimist, Pessimist and Realist. While you were arguing about the glass of water . . . I drank it.

Signed, 'The Opportunist'

As we venture into a new year of business opportunities and challenges around the world, I couldn't think of a better way of describing the mindset that is required by Canadian entrepreneurs, managers, employees and policy makers if we are to effectively make the transition from a trading nation to nation of traders. The quasi-optimistic, often unrealistic, and overly cautious approach that I have found characterizes too much of Canada Inc.'s approach to markets not called the United States is not a winning strategy in the global economy.

As I wrap up my latest trip to India, two things stand out in my mind.

1. Despite its economic, political and social challenges, India is still attracting considerable attention from 'opportunists' around the world.

Here is a sampling of the headlines from the business section of the Telegraph (Calcutta) and The Times of India (New Delhi) over the past three weeks:

  • “India key element in Ford’s global strategy”

  • “Daimler trucks to hit the road this year”

  • “LG to up investment by 20%”

  • “Rail turns to Japan for speed”

  • “Mitsubishi shipbuilding tech for L&T”

  • “Abu Dhabi sovereign fund eyes India”

Without a doubt, U.S. Inc., EU Inc., Korea Inc., Japan Inc., the Middle East Inc. . . . are alive and well in India.

2. While Canada is making progress on the trade front with India, Canada Inc. is still in the minor leagues in its dealings with the country.

To the end of 2010, Canada's bilateral merchandise trade with India totalled $4.2-billion (evenly split between exports and imports), down from a high of $4.7-billion in 2008. For Canada, this represents approximately 0.5 per cent our merchandise trade with the rest of the world. For India, the figure is marginally higher.

On the services front, the trajectory is positive (particularly for India), but the volume of trade is still very modest. Total bilateral trade totalled $944-million ($398-million in exports/receipts and $546-million in imports/payments) to the end of 2009.

As it pertains to the direct investments in our respective nations, India outperforms Canada by a wide margin. To 2010, the stock of Indian direct investment in Canada totalled $6.6-billion. Canadian direct investment in India, by comparison, was only $492-million.

Don't get me wrong, there are a few bright spots behind these statistics. Bombardier, for example, has found a very good market in India for its Q400 turboprop jets, the Canadian Tourism Commission (CTC) recently launched a special website for the Indian market, and smaller enterprises, like Integrim, are starting to leverage the Indian market to improve the competitiveness of their offerings.

As the numbers clearly show, though, Canada Inc. has a long ways to go in claiming India as a true strategic partner.

A retired professor from Wharton (University of Pennsylvania), who I happened to meet at New Year's Eve party in Kolkata, probably said it best: "You know, you don't really hear much about Canada in India."

Canadian opportunists, where are you?