11/06/2012 11:44 EST | Updated 01/06/2013 05:12 EST

Stephen Harper India Visit: Trade Relationship Needs To Beat Odds Like Bollywood Movie, PM Says


GURAGON, India - Canada and India are like the star-crossed lovers of a Bollywood movie, says Stephen Harper — meant to be together, but forced to surmount a series of obstacles.

The prime minister's lighthearted analogy drew laughter from those listening to his special address at the World Economic Forum in Guragon, near New Delhi, on Wednesday.

"Two young people meet. They know they’re meant for each other, but they have obstacles to overcome," Harper said.

"And, before the viewer loses interest, they do, in fact, overcome those obstacles and the happy ending ensues."

Harper has made encouraging the flow of trade between Canada and India the focus of his six-day visit to the rapidly growing South Asian nation.

He has said repeatedly that Canada needs to branch out past its usual trading partners if it wants to weather the international economic storm.

While he didn't describe what the obstacles were between the two countries, his activities over the past week do suggest Canada is the character doing the aggressive courting in the screenplay.

He went through all the elements of his government's strategy for bringing stability to the economy — the "five t's" he called it: more trade, lower taxes, more training, the transformation of government process to get rid of red tape, and support for technology and research.

And he pointed out the reasons Canada should be attractive to a country like India.

"Canada is a natural-resources powerhouse. India needs resources to serve its growing industrial and technological strength," Harper said.

"Canada has strong, established public institutions. India’s needs in areas like education and infrastructure are outstripping its capacity."

The two countries are still in the midst of negotiations for a Foreign Investment and Protection Agreement — or FIPA — and for a free-trade style agreement they hope to wrap up by the end of 2013.

Former trade minister, Stockwell Day, co-chairman of the Canada-India Business Forum in New Delhi this week, is more blunt about the challenges faced by Canadian businesses and government.

"It seems that in almost every area, no matter what you're pursuing, there is a labyrinth of regulations and officials to deal with and rulemaking that's accumulated over the decades...," Day said in an interview.

"From 30,000 feet, millions of people have moved out of poverty in India, but much more could be done at a better pace."

The barriers mostly seem to be on the side of India. The government of Manmohan Singh is in a minority situation and he has not had an easy time pushing through some of his proposed economic reforms.

Singh's administration also faces a number of controversies involving foreign investment, most notably the staggering tax bill sent suddenly to British-owned Vodafone — a move being fought in the courts.

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