Friday, September 24, 2010

India cautions world to show 'respect' in Commonwealth Games criticisms

India's industry minister is lashing out at critics of his country's readiness to host the Commonwealth Games, warning potential trade partners to treat the emerging economic powerhouse with "respect."

With the United States still limping from its worst recession in decades, countries such as Canada are looking to expand their trade ties with the world's two fastest growing major economies: China and India. But as Canada tries to gain access to these massive emerging markets, it must not only surmount traditional trade barriers, but also deep cultural differences and the perception in some quarters that China and India have been snubbed by the traditional club of rich western nations.

At a news conference Friday to promote trade talks with Canada, India's commerce and industry minister, Anand Sharma, rejected international criticism of the upcoming Commonwealth Games as "unwarranted" and "unfair."

"There is no major project anywhere which is concluded to perfection," Sharma told reporters, noting that Canada has faced similar criticism in the past when hosting global events. "Trying to run down the country is not acceptable to us."

He was responding to a stream of complaints in recent days about the facilities at the Commonwealth Games, due to kick off Oct. 3 in Delhi. Officials from participating countries have described the athletes' village as filthy and unsafe, and athletes from several countries, including Canada, have threatened to skip the games.

The scramble by India to prepare for the games, meant to showcase the country's emergence as a major power, stands in stark contrast to the impressive display of technology and organization shown by Beijing at the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 summer Olympics.

Sharma bristled at the suggestion that India would fail to welcome guests in an appropriate manner.

"We have very rich cultural traditions, and we know how to receive our guests. Our guests will be welcomed, and the Commonwealth Games will be rejoiced and remembered."

Sharma reminded India's trade partners there could be economic consequences for those who find fault with the games facilities. "It would be a mistake not to engage with India with respect, and when it comes to business, whose loss (would it) be?" said Sharma.

The remarks come as Canada and India set the stage for a free-trade agreement between the two countries, a deal that could take years to negotiate but that officials estimate could eventually generate an additional $6 billion to $15 billion every year in output for the Canadian economy.

After being chided by trade experts for ignoring India's growing economic clout, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government has recently ramped up its efforts to woo the world's second fastest growing major economy. Last November, Harper paid his first visit to India as prime minister. Then, at this summer's G20 summit in June, the two sides signed a deal that paves the way for Canada to sell uranium and civilian nuclear technology to India.

This week, federal Trade Minister Peter Van Loan identified a free-trade deal with India as one of his top priorities, along with maintaining close ties with the United States and inking a trade agreement with the European Union. But on Friday, he could not provide a date for the formal launch of negotiations with India on a trade pact.

The two sides unveiled a joint study that underscores both the opportunities and challenges of a trade agreement between Canada and India, which will likely take several years to finalize.

The report notes that Canada's total trade with India in 2008 reached $4 billion U.S., a small proportion of the $865 billion U.S. in total merchandise trade that Canada did that year. "It appears that the India-Canada trade relationship is significantly under-traded," it states.

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