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Minister of National Defence Jason Kenney walks with Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi as he arrives at Ottawa for a state visit on Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

Indian Prime Minister Modi's historic state visit to Canada shows that India is serious about doing business with Canada as he strives to shape India into a major manufacturing and investment hub. Yet if Canada's track record in India is any indication, the Indians might be wondering if Canada is serious about doing business with them.

G20 competitors have been ramping up engagement with India's business community in recent years while Canada has been increasingly hidden behind their shadows. The strength of the Canadian dollar, overdependence on the U.S. market, stiffer competition from the U.S., China, Germany and Australia, distance, and lack of market understanding, were all factors in Canada's loss of competitiveness.

This week's state visit between Harper and Modi is the perfect opportunity for the Canadian business community and Government of Canada to strongly reassert Canada's commercial position with one of the world's largest emerging markets.

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India is projected to be the third largest economy globally by 2050. India's growing and young population (median age 25), rapidly expanding high tech and services sectors, new "Make in India" manufacturing policy, as well as the associated infrastructure and natural resources requirements make it a tremendous market for Canadian companies.

Canada appears to have finally gotten the message. It now sees India as a priority in the government's Global Markets Action Plan. New trade offices have been opened; framework agreements concluded in key sectors such as agri-food, mining, energy, environment, science and technology, and skills training; and negotiations are well advanced on a Comprehensive Economic Partnership and Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection agreements.

For those Canadian small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) prepared to step out of their comfort zone and take on more entrepreneurial risk, the potential rewards are substantial.

Specific opportunities for Canadian companies abound include energy, agri-food, infrastructure, skills transfer and innovative manufacturing. In these and other areas such as clean tech, aerospace and defence, India needs products, services, technology and training.

Companies planning an entry strategy should also look beyond Mumbai and New Delhi to the booming southern states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. Canada has recently opened a Consulate General in Bangalore to help Canadian companies succeed in south India.

We know the bureaucracy has traditionally been a labyrinth of incoherence, duplication and red tape, so to stimulate growth and attract investment, India has undertaken a series of major reforms to improve the business climate and realize its full market potential. New policies and legislation, as well as the Canada-India CEPA, will contribute to India's stability and economic growth.

The important thing is to start now. India offers unlimited opportunities not just for Canada, but for other global competitors who have been quick off the mark. The onus is on us to seize the moment. Prime Minister Modi's visit signals India's genuine interest in doing business with Canada. Let's not let him down. Think big. Think entrepreneurially. Think India.

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Omar Allam is the CEO and founder of the Allam Advisory Group, a global business, commercial diplomacy and strategy consulting firm that helps companies do business in Canada and emerging markets. Former senior Canadian trade diplomat posted in India & Africa. Peter Sutherland is a board advisor with the Allam Advisory Group, former Canadian High Commissioner to India, and Vice Chair of the Canada-India Business Council.

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