04/12/2012 06:16 EDT | Updated 06/12/2012 05:12 EDT

India Can Do Better than Us

Flickr: India Untravelled

Against the backdrop of global financial stagnation, India's economic growth is expected to continue at a sustained level of seven per cent or more annually over the decade.

Economic momentum is only part of the story.

India's growth is driven and secured in large part by its demographics. The middle class has grown to 274 million and could hit 600 million by 2020.

Canadian business and industry are beginning to realize that despite perceived difficulties, it is riskier for them to ignore emerging markets than it is to work with them.

The challenge for Canada however, is that it's increasingly difficult to get India's attention.

Canada is just one of many countries striving to make inroads in this rapidly emerging market. While we can claim some success (exports have doubled in recent years) Canada's market share has fallen.

This is not from lack of effort.

The federal government is working to facilitate trade by negotiating an Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA), as well as other as business related accords including a Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPPA), and a Social Security Agreement to enable workers to move more easily between the two countries.

But despite the lure of our natural resources and skilled workforce, Canada is still a long way from achieving the ambitious target of reaching $15 billion in trade with India by 2015.

Where are we going wrong?

There is admittedly no single answer, but a strong start would be for Canadian industry and government to increase its focus on what India wants rather than what we think India needs. Shared values and zealous marketing will not get us where we want to be. We need to think more fundamentally about how to raise Canada's value as a business partner.

Increasing Canadian competitiveness would be a start. A competitive economy attracts direct foreign investment, and spawns competitive companies, but at the moment Canada is losing ground. According to the World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Report, Canada has dropped out of the top ten, slipping to 12th place from ninth in two years.

As the report notes, Canada needs to focus on improving productivity, innovation, and integration into global supply chains. Our low score on innovation is particularly troubling. "Frugal innovation" is a mantra in India, and Indian companies are looking for foreign partners who can offer a better mousetrap.

The Conference Board ranks Canada 14th out of 17 developed OECD countries on innovation. Lower spending on research and development, especially by businesses, is a factor, but our biggest shortcoming is failure to commercialize new technologies.

Better market access and high level commitment are two other prerequisites for success. This means a welcoming, and transparent foreign investment policy, as well as world class infrastructure to move goods across the country, and overseas. Sustained corporate and political engagement at the top level is required to show Canada is serious about winning a bigger share of India's burgeoning market.

Addressing what can be done in Canada to improve competitiveness, innovation, investment policy, access, and engagement will raise our standing as a preferred business partner for India, China and other emerging markets that today account for the lion's share of global growth.