Stephen Harper tells India to move faster on developing trade

After a slow-moving summit with his Indian counterpart, Prime Minister Stephen Harper Wednesday told a business conference in New Delhi that trade ties between India and Canada are not developing fast enough.

Seeming frustrated by the modest achievements of his visit — which produced some incremental, sector-by-sector agreements but not the hoped-for Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement — Harper said the "untapped economic potential between us is massive and undeniable."

However, he added tartly, "massive and undeniable as that potential is, it will not develop itself."

"It will take concerted efforts by both of our countries to reap all of the benefits that this relationship can yield."

Harper said the limited gains so far were welcome, but not nearly enough.

"I acknowledge that there has been progress. The Social Security Agreement is finally done. So too, at last, is the administrative arrangement to complete our Nuclear Cooperation Agreement. Our foreign investment negotiations have come much of the way."

However, he added, "We have to be serious about getting them over the finish line."

Harper's mission comes at a time when India's Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, is struggling to hold his coalition government together. India's vaunted growth is sputtering, its currency, the rupee, is falling and analysts describe current Indian politics as "paralysed" and "dysfunctional."

The trade talks with Harper's delegation have reflected that. Canadians expressed frustration yesterday when prime minister Singh refused to allow a joint press conference following his meeting with Harper — prompting a brief and hastily-arranged press scrum by Harper alone.

It is apparent, too, that the Canadians were dissatisfied with the transportation arrangements for Harper, leading to a costly decision by the RCMP to ship Canadian cars to India to ferry the prime minister around in India.

As to the halting progress on trade, Harper made his discomfort clear in his remarks to the World Economic Forum in Gurgaon, a suburb of New Delhi.

"The world is moving quickly; Canada and India must also," he told a well-heeled audience of Indian and international executives. "Time and tide wait for no one. We must redouble our efforts. Let us not lose the chance for both nations that this moment offers ... we have to work hard to overcome the obstacles, if we are to get to the happy ending we both want."

However, Harper's meetings with Indian national leaders are now concluded.

In sobering comments on the world economy, Harper said after his speech that the recovery is being held back by investors' fear of a possible "catastrophic" economic event.

Harper said that "what worries big actors in the world economy is that there will be some kind of catastrophic event, as happened in late '08, that will send everything into a tailspin."

Harper now moves on to Chandigarh, the capital of predominantly Sikh Punjab Wednesday. Thursday, he travels to Bangalore to wrap up his trip.