Okanagan business representatives make efforts to tap into growing economy of India

Okanagan business and community representatives attend gathering with India's Prime Minister and Stephen Harper

As ink dried on a significant trade agreement between Canada and India, representatives of Kelowna’s tech and agricultural industries made their way to a state dinner with India’s prime minister with high hopes.

Their aim, explained Kelowna Lake Country MP Ron Cannan Thursday, was to learn more about opportunities for expanding their products into the South Asian market.

“Basically there are folks from the community who are South Asian, who have an interest in finding, and expanding their trading partners, both from a variety of business and agricultural perspectives,” he said.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper was also at the Vancouver event for India  Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It was held a day after they announced a new agreement that will see Saskatchewan-based Cameco Corp. supply India with uranium to fuel the country’s nuclear power facilities.

While that deal has earned the vast majority of attention, Cannan said there are a number of other trade bridges being built, among which is the “road map” for free-trade negotiations which they estimated will be concluded by September. Whether that date will be met is unclear as even Harper has been quoted saying, “There are many issues to be resolved.”

With recent successes in China, Okanagan fruit growers are looking toward resolution of all issues with a great deal of interest, which is why Kelowna orchardist Karma Gill is among those who are attending the meeting.

He couldn’t be reached Wednesday, but any news he brings back will be met with much enthusiasm.

“There have been test shipments into the market, and there is interest in pursuing that,” said Glen Lucas, BC Fruit Growers Association general manager, noting his organization isn’t formally involved with meetings with the Indian prime minister.

“Our focus in previous years has been access to China, especially for cherries. We’re going into the second full year of that and the industry is feeling comfortable, so we are now looking at other opportunities for both cherries and apples.”

In particular, they’re looking at a growth market for apples, although not too many as the Okanagan apple supply accounts for less than .2 per cent of the world supply.

“We would be looking at specialty markets,” Lucas said. “So that could mean we’re just supplying hotels in India.”

Another potential opportunity exists with  South Korea, he said, noting that  a recently penned trade agreement with them should come into effect in the near future.

“If they are smaller markets, other places like Washington won’t be able to service them,” he said, noting that their size makes them more nimble than behemoth producers south of the border.

India is Canada’s largest trading partner in South Asia, with two-way trade valued at approximately $6.3 billion. Canadian exports to the country totaled about $3.1 billion in 2014 and imports from India almost $3.2 billion.

Free-trade negotiations have moved slowly since being launched in late 2010.

Coun. Mohini Singh was also at the dinner, said Cannon, noting that Mayor Colin Basran was unable to attend.

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