By Hemant M. Shah
WINNIPEG: So one more trip by the Canadian minister for foreign affairs to India is over! Well, frequent visits by leaders and business delegations from Canada and India to each other’s country are fine, but these exchanges don’t seem to have done much to deepen our bilateral relationship. Many deals, agreed upon, are yet to be signed, including the much-talked about nuclear deal.
There was a talk of taking the two-way trade to $10 billion and then $15 billion. But nothing seems to be happening.
I laud chambers of commerce for promoting business and trade ties between India and Canada, but there is something wrong in their approach. Why are they looking only at big companies to deepen trade and business relationship between the two countries?
Why don’t their business delegations include small and medium enterprises (SMEs) which are the backbone of the economy in the two countries? Further, why aren’t companies which have been operating in India for over three decades taken on board?
In the case of Canada, I will explain why its SMEs and its companies already in India for decades shouldn’t be ignored by business delegations visiting India.
The companies already operating in India know the ground realities and thus can serve as mentors for new companies seeking opportunities there.
And why Canadian SMEs should be encouraged to get on board while seeking deeper engagement with India? Big companies can – and will – go on their own, but SMEs cannot go there on their own. They needed to be helped to engage with India.
The involvement of SMEs will help both the countries in a big way.
I will give the example of the Winnipeg-based Rimer Alco North America (RANA) Respiratory Care Group.
RANA makes mine refuge systems which help trapped miners survive up to 72 hours by supplying them with oxygen and food, etc. Their safety equipment serves as a sort of mine sub-station. We encouraged RANA to engage with India, and they are now going there.
Now RANA’s engagement with India helps everybody in so many ways. First, unlike big companies, RANA will not outsource work and thus create employment in India and Canada. Second, it plans to use India as a manufacturing hub for supplies to Russia, the Middle East and the rest of Asia.
Both countries benefit when an SME like RANA goes to India. For Canada, it means more business and jobs as well as opportunities for its SMEs to get bigger on the global scale. For India, it is business and creation of jobs.
It will be easier for smaller companies to go to India because of their small scale of investment and quick decision-making. A bigger company seeking to invest $100 million in India will take much time than a smaller companies looking for a $2 million investment in India.
Bigger companies are like elephants. They take their own time. That’s why I want Canadian SMEs to be involved in business delegations visiting India.
As someone who comes from India and who has done business with Indian companies for over three decades, I think time has now come to do some plain speaking.
Frankly, visits by ministers and business delegations to each other’s country are not accomplishing anything. Indian delegations will keep coming here, talk much and accomplish little, visit the CN Tower and Niagara Falls and go back. The same argument holds for Canadian ministers and delegations visiting India.
The need of the hour is to involve SMEs and grassroots Indo-Canadians.
(Winnipeg-based Hemant M. Shah is director (west Asia) for mining equipment maker Cubex Limited)