Nuclear progress marks Harper's 2nd day of India deals

The second full day of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's tour of India laid out an array of agreements, including a nuclear deal to overcome security concerns that held Canada back from shipping its uranium.

Canadian uranium shipments stalled by oversight concerns despite 2010 agreement

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his wife, Laureen, pay their respects at Rajghat, Mahatma Gandhi's cremation site, in New Dehli on Tuesday. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

The second full day of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's official visit to India laid out an array of agreements with his counterpart Manmohan Singh, including a nuclear deal to overcome security concerns that held Canada back from shipping its uranium.

India is eager to fuel its growing domestic energy industry. A 2010 agreement on the "peaceful uses of nuclear energy" was supposed to pave the way for this trade.

But India was balking at Canadian demands to supervise where its uranium ended up.  After a round of negotiations, a joint committee has been formed to provide the oversight Canada wants and ensure the shipments are purely for civilian use.

"We are very confident about the administrative arrangements that we’ve signed," Harper told reporters travelling with him. "We’ve worked very closely with the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission to confirm that [India achieves] all of our objectives in terms of non-proliferation."

"Being able to resolve these issues and move forward is, we believe, a really important economic opportunity for an important Canadian industry ... that should pay dividends in terms of jobs and growth for Canadians down the road," Harper said, noting the similarities in the heavy water reactors used in India and Canada.

The CBC's Terry Milewski characterized Tuesday's announcement as "a deal to allow deals": not the actual sale of uranium, but an agreement to spell out how it could happen in the future.

The two leaders also announced their respective natural resources ministers are exploring the possibility of a memorandum of understanding towards more trade in the oil and gas sector.

Investment, free trade deals not ready yet

While Tuesday's announcements signal progress on the energy front, more work remains in negotiations towards not only a "priority" bilateral investment protection deal, but also an economic partnership agreement billed as the beginning of a Canada-India free trade deal.

"Canada remains in relative terms extremely open to foreign investment compared to a country like India," Harper told reporters.

"A completed trade agreement is essential for two-way trade to truly blossom," Harper said later in his prepared remarks. "I urge our negotiators to continue this critical work and reach agreement in 2013."

In the meantime, the joint statement provided at the end of the two leaders' talks said that India invited Canada to consider investing in India's infrastructure, including buying shares in several public-sector enterprises.  For its part, the statement says Canada "encouraged India to consider providing increased opportunities for Canadian participation in the Indian financial sector."

International Trade Minister Ed Fast heralded a list of 14 old and new trade and investment deals Monday that he said were worth over $2.5 billion.

By 2015, both countries want to increase their bilateral trade to $15 billion annually, Harper repeated in his Tuesday remarks.

Pension deal facilitates temporary work abroad

In a separate announcement Tuesday, India became the latest country to sign a social security agreement to co-ordinate pension benefits and contributions for citizens who have worked in both countries.

Canada has similar agreements with 56 other countries, 53 of which are in force. Employees from Canada who are sent to work temporarily in India will be able to continue to contribute to the Canada Pension Plan and be exempt from contributing to the Employees’ Pension Scheme of India. Canadian businesses will also be exempt from paying Indian pension plan contributions for their employees sent to work temporarily in India.

Indian companies and Indian employees sent to work in Canada will have reciprocal arrangements for India's pension regime.

In another move, Harper announced the winner of a $12-million competition established in the 2011 federal budget. The new Canada-India Research Centre of Excellence will be spearheaded by a group based at the University of British Columbia, in collaboration with the University of Alberta, the University of Toronto and various public and private-sector partners.

The India-Canada Centre for Innovative Multidisciplinary Partnership to Accelerate Transformation and Sustainability (IC-IMPACTS) will focus on three three key areas:

  • Drinking water.
  • Infrastructure.
  • The prevention and treatment of water-borne and infectious diseases.

Canada has funded $13.8 million in grants for scientific research between the two countries. York University in Toronto is also working with the Defence Research Development Organization of India on chemical-biological defence and nanotechnology application projects.

On Tuesday, Canada also signed a memorandum of understanding to further business partnerships in the information and communication technology sector.

Valued friendship in 'uncertain times'

The series of official signings came at the end of a long day of bilateral meetings in New Delhi with not only India's prime minister, but also Indian President Pranab Mukherjee, Vice-President Hamid Ansari and parliamentary opposition leaders.

The two prime ministers posed for the cameras during ceremonies at Hyderabad House, a former royal building now used by the Indian government.

"We live in an uncertain time, which makes having certain friends all the more important," Harper told his hosts. "It is my hope that this visit will strengthen our friendship … a friendship that I personally, and Canadians generally, greatly value."

Three ministers – International Trade Minister Ed Fast, Democratic Reform Minister Tim Uppal and Amateur Sport Minister Bal Gosal – as well as five MPs and two senators have been meeting high-ranking Indian officials as part of Harper's entourage. Canadian business people rounded out the delegation, including four members of the India-Canada CEO Forum co-chaired by Open Text Corporation's Tom Jenkins.

Earlier in the day, Harper took part in an official ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhavan, the former seat of the British viceroy in India and now the stunning home of India's president.

During a meeting with India's foreign minister, Preneet Kaur, Harper was encouraged to continue the fight against Sikh extremism.

Laureen Harper joined her husband in throwing petals as part of a remembrance ceremony at Mahatma Gandhi's cremation site at Rajghat.

[IMAGEGALLERY galleryid=3321 size=large]

with files from The Canadian Press