U.A.E. landing rights in Canada still at issue

A delegation from the United Arab Emirates ,visiting Ottawa Monday. Two aviation officials were in the delegation

United Arab Emirates delegation includes aviation officials

United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, left, and Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird take questions from reporters after talks in Ottawa on Monday. (Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)

The subject of landing rights for airlines from the United Arab Emirates doesn't seem to be closed yet.

Two aviation officials from the U.A.E. were among a delegation visiting Ottawa Monday.

Officials from the U.A.E. General Civil Aviation Authority and the Dubai Airport Authority are in Canada along with Emirati Foreign Affairs Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al Nahyan, who met with Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird Monday as part of an official visit.

At a news conference, Baird joked that he had warned al Nahyan that the subject of landing rights would come up. The issue was a source of tension between the two countries in 2010, culminating in the U.A.E. evicting Canada's Camp Mirage base outside Dubai. Mirage was used as a staging ground for the mission in Afghanistan, with officials and troops transiting the base on their way to Kandahar and Kabul.

It came at a time that was particularly challenging as Canadian officials were planning to draw back the number of troops and equipment in Afghanistan as the Canadian Forces started transitioning to a training mission.

The U.A.E. also imposed a travel visa on Canadians visiting the country.

Al Nahyan indicated the issue isn't closed yet, answering a question about landing rights by telling reporters he's interested in "diversifying our relationship with Canada."

"U.A.E. is a main hub for trade in our region when it comes to the [Persian] Gulf, sub-continent, central Asia, East Africa. So definitely I think having more trade between the U.A.E. and Canada, and using the U.A.E. as a hub, I think is [beneficial] for both countries. And I think by establishing the business council between the two countries, I think we will have even far more opportunities for that kind of co-operation," he said.

At the time of the landing rights dispute, Baird was the transport minister and reportedly argued in cabinet in favour of protecting Air Canada from the competition the company could expect from more Emirates Airlines and Etihad Airways flights.

Relations 'going in the right trajectory'

Baird, who has spoken before about how his role at Foreign Affairs has taught him the importance of personal relations, admitted Canada and the U.A.E. have had some challenging times in the past.

"Many people said the relationship was going in the wrong direction," he said. But now, "we enjoy warm relations with the U.A.E. They are better than they’ve been and they’re certainly going in the right trajectory and the right direction, which we’re very, very pleased with."

Baird says it's not only important for economic reasons, but for Canada's work in the region too: "That political partnership is tremendously important and I’m pleased to say it’s growing."

Al Nahyan and Baird announced the two countries are starting talks on a nuclear co-operation agreement, with al Nahyan adding he hopes Canada will be the main supplier when the U.A.E. rebuilds its nuclear reactors.