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Nuclear deal tops agenda during Harper's visit to India

Canadian prime minister to help in finalising contract

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New Delhi: Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper's three-day visit to India, which started on Sunday, will be dominated by talks over a nuclear deal and new trade pacts in a bid to improve a relationship that turned frosty when Ottawa cut off nuclear support for India after New Delhi's 1974 nuclear test.

Accompanied by Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon, International Trade Minister Stockwell Day and Parliamentary Secretary Deepak Obhrai, Harper was expected to land in Mumbai last night from Singapore after attending the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum summit.

He is expected to meet top Indian industrialists at a luncheon at the Trident Hotel in Mumbai today before leaving for New Delhi.

Harper will hold talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on a range of bilateral issues, including trade and investment, civil nuclear cooperation, the global financial crisis and climate change.

Trade barriers

The two sides are likely to talk about a Canada-India free-trade agreement or other incremental steps to lower trade barriers between them.

A slew of agreements are expected to be signed, including a foreign investment protection agreement and cooperation on energy and agriculture in a bid to expand bilateral trade now languishing below $5 billion (Dh18.3 billion).

When Harper meets Singh the focus will be on the bilateral civil nuclear deal the two sides have been negotiating for some time. The talks are expected to put the finishing touches on the deal, but it may not be signed during Harper's visit, according to informed sources.

Ahead of his visit, Harper struck a positive note ,saying his trip will ring in a "new era of partnership" between the two countries.

The nuclear deal, said a source, is necessary to transform the relationship as it is the one big issue that had estranged New Delhi from Ottawa.

The prospects for a nuclear rapprochement brightened after Canada supported India in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) last year. Leading NSG members such as the US, Russia and France signed bilateral deals with India.

With the nuclear deal a priority, Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd CEO Hugh McDiarmid and officials from Cameco, the leading uranium miner, are accompanying Harper to India.

"Certainly, we're looking forward to having the opportunity to do business in India," a Cameco spokesman said.