Ottawa trade trip to India aims to draw business, tourists

"I am confident this trade mission will help local companies to open doors and establish credibility much faster than venturing into this vast market on their own,” said Ottawa mayor Jim Watson.

Representatives will visit three Indian cities over five days

Ottawa mayor Jim Watson flies to India for a trade mission Friday. (CBC)

Ottawa's mayor flies to India Friday to lead three dozen people in a trade delegation to New Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore, aimed at opening doors for local businesses and drawing tourists for Canada's 150th birthday celebrations.

The mayor's first such trade trip to the populous country comes on the heels of a similar visit by Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne.

In the fall of 2015, both Watson and Wynne also, separately, led trade missions to China.

Representatives from Ottawa's universities and college and Ottawa Tourism are also headed to India. 

And, of course, the business community will be well-represented by people working in technology, online education, real estate development, and filmmaking — with meetings in Mumbai, the capital of Bollywood.

Indian Bollywood actor Anil Kapoor attends the launch of veteran Bollywood actor Kabir Bedis 1976 Italian television mini series Sandokan. (Sujit Jaiswal/AFP/Getty Images)
Months ahead of time, the city's economic development agency hired contractors in India to set up the right meetings for the delegation, said Invest Ottawa's Bruce Lazenby.

"We don't want to go over there and meet people who don't matter," said Lazenby, who described a crammed schedule of meetings in three cities over five days.

"It's going to be a very aggressive mission. But every one of those meetings is going to count, and we're going to get good business out of this."

Building relationships

But first, comes trust.

"Relationship-building is more important there, before they trust you and sign for multi-million dollar deals," explained Anand Srinivasan, chief technology officer for EION Wireless.

India is already a prime market for the Kanata-based company. It is trying to bridge the digital divide by bringing in basic internet to remote and rural communities, said Srinivasan.

Meanwhile, it's expanding broadband in urban areas so the Indian government can do more of its business electronically, such as holding bail hearings in remote areas over over wireless connections.

Srinivasan expects a public figure like the mayor will open doors, and lead to meetings between EION Wireless and decision makers at internet service providers in India.

"This is a major starting step for us to achieve something large," said Srinivasan.

Less red tape, more red carpet

Canada has long had ties with the people of India, and it's time to forge more business ties, said Sid Kumar, president of the Ottawa branch of the Network of Indian Professionals.

He moved to Canada from India more than a decade ago and every time he goes back, Kumar is struck by India's young, tech-savvy population.

This is a major starting step for us to achieve something large,- Anand Srinivasan, EION Wireless

Kumar is not on this trade mission, but he accompanied Ontario PC leader Patrick Brown to India recently and found the country is becoming a better business partner.

"With the recent government they are changing the 'red-tapism' to as they call it 'red carpet', so they want to be more welcoming," explained Kumar.

Srinivasan said Canadian businesses should take advantage of the way India is liberalizing rules for foreign investors.

"We are competing against other countries like Australia, Germany and the United States. They're all there," said Srinivasan. "We need to be at the leading edge."