Canadian visitors to U.A.E. no longer need visas

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird's stop in the United Arab Emirates Tuesday was focused on knocking down a contentious visa imposed on Canadians over two years ago, when the two countries' diplomatic relations offered a more bitter taste.

Business talks trump past disputes, as counterparts indulge in Canadian-style coffee break

Earlier Tuesday, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird circulated this photo on Twitter, writing: Got my @timhortons fix with my Emirati counterpart, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan. A diplomatic double double! (Department of Foreign Affairs)

Canada and the United Arab Emirates have agreed to end a squabble over visas that forced Canadians to pay hundreds of dollars to enter the Gulf country.

Baird visited a Tim Hortons outlet in Abu Dhabi Tuesday with his "friend," the United Arab Emirates foreign minister, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Their morning coffee break was followed by "good and formal discussions," Baird said. 

In a statement, the ministers said the talks would "strengthen and re-energize the Canada-U.A.E. relationship."

Relations between Canada and the U.A.E. soured in 2010 over Canada's refusal to grant Emirati airlines extra landing rights in Canada, a dispute that prompted the closure of a key Canadian Forces staging base outside Dubai.

The following year, the U.A.E. imposed a costly visa on Canadians visiting the country.

Visitors from most European countries, Australia and the U.S.didn't need visas for the U.A.E. Canadians, however, had to pay $165 for a single-entry, 30-day visa; $330 for a single-entry 60-day visa; and $660 for a six-month, multiple-entry visa.

Diplomatic irritations were partially soothed last year with news that Canada will sell the U.A.E. nuclear technology. At the same time, the U.A.E. announced it would cut the fees for visas, though the requirement remained in place.

On Tuesday, the ministers said they had accomplished their goal to "facilitate travel requirements to increase business, tourism and joint prosperity for our citizens by restoring the visa regime."

Chairs announced for joint business council

In addition to the nuclear co-operation agreement signed last year, the ministers' joint statement announced the launch of a Canada-U.A.E. business council.

The statement said the council's inaugural chairs would be Abdulla Saif Ali Slayem Al Nuaimi, the vice-chairman of TAQA [the Abu Dhabi National Energy Company], which is currently active in sustainable energy technology in Canada, and Gordon Nixon, the president and chief executive officer of the Royal Bank of Canada.

More than 40,000 Canadians live and work in the U.A.E. and more than 150 Canadian companies are established there.

In addition, International Trade Minister Ed Fast and his counterpart, the U.A.E.'s minister of economy, Sultan Bin Saeed Al Mansouri, will meet in May, the statement said.

The two countries also appear poised for future cooperation in the field of international development.

International Co-operation Minister Julian Fantino has accepted an invitation to visit the U.A.E. later this month, "collaborating in our mutual objectives to reduce poverty and create prosperity in the developing world by investing in economic development," the joint statement said.

The ministers agreed to strengthen co-operation on police, corrections and border matters, including training opportunities.

The two countries also joined in urging Iran to co-operate with the international community on its nuclear program and called for an effective and responsible international response to the Assad regime and its actions against the Syrian people.

"We find ourselves at a historic crossroads in the region and globally: between an opportunity to promote prosperity, security and development and the threats posed by extremists, conflict and poverty," the joint communique said.

Baird was in Jordan on the weekend before making his brief trip to Iraq on Monday. Baird's two-week tour of the Middle East continues throughout Parliament's Easter break, with future stops in Qatar, Bahrain, Cyprus and Israel.

with files from CBC News