Canadian Minister for International Trade Stockwell Day is reaching Delhi on January 19 for a five-day official visit to India.
Day's first visit to India assumes significance as he will meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to discuss civilian nuclear trade between the two countries.
Speaking to reporters via a teleconference call from Prague on Friday, where he was meeting European trade officials before traveling to India, Day said India is "anticipating the construction of over 30 to 40 nuclear plants over the next several years to produce clean energy. That's a huge opportunity for Canada, again, on the technology side and the supply side."
The Canadian minister has invited representatives from three top Canadian nuclear companies to accompany him. They include Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd, a Crown corporation responsible for building and sale of Candu nuclear reactors, SNC Lavalin Nuclear and Cameco Corp.
In an exclusive interview with rediff.com, Day stated that the Canadian delegation would try to sell another Candu reactor to India -- two small Canadian Candu reactors were sold to India during the early 1950s.
The minister admitted that Canada signed its own civilian nuclear agreement with India in September, 2008, after the NSG lifted its restrictions on the sale of nuclear technology and fuel to India. The civilian nuclear agreement between India and Canada had been kept under wraps till now.
The civilian nuclear agreement between India and US was signed in October, 2008.
Canada had imposed a ban on nuclear trade with India after the latter conducted its first nuclear test in 1974. Canada had accused India of misusing its nuclear technology and material to conduct the test.
But Canada had changed its stance after India and United States decided to chalk out a civilian nuclear agreement. It supported India at the International Atomic Energy Agency and during the crucial vote at the Nuclear Suppliers Group, of which Canada is a member.
Canadian companies are rushing to India to compete with the US, French and Russian companies that are trying to sell nuclear material and technology to the Indian government.
During their meeting, Day is likely to tell Dr Singh that Canada doesn't have any reservations about India's civilian nuclear programmes. He will also convey that Canada -- which had once demanded that India sign both the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty -- has softened its stance since then.
Day made it clear that signing these treaties was no longer a pre-condition to the sale of nuclear material to India.
When queried if Canada has already worked out some kind of general agreement about regularising nuclear trade, Day responded, "When you are dealing with the civil nuclear industry and looking at clean energy, there are still very clear guidelines about the fact that that has to be restricted just for the production of energy."
He asserted that India had to adhere to certain regulations like regular inspections by IAEA inspectors "to make sure their processes are in place and that there is no crossover from the technologists and scientists who work on the civilian side into other areas of productions."
Day admitted that only India's civilian nuclear reactors fall under the purview of IAEA inspection, as both its treaties with the US and Canada dealt with civilian nuclear trade. The IAEA has not been granted access to some Indian nuclear reactors.
Last year, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper had called India a responsible nuclear power and Canadian diplomats had lobbied for India at the NSG.
National Security Adviser M K Narayan had met Harper in Ottawa and delivered a letter from the PM.
After the NSG gave its nod to the India-specific waiver, former Canadian foreign affairs minister David Emersion called India 'a responsible democracy that shares with Canada the fundamental values of freedom, democracy, human rights and respect for the rule of law.'
When queried if he was carrying any personal message from the Canadian PM for Dr Singh, Day affirmed that he was carrying a letter from Harper, which invited the PM to visit Canada.
Deepak Obhrai, a member of the Canadian parliament and the parliamentary secretary to the minister for foreign affairs, met Dr Singh in Chennai during the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas. During the meeting, Dr Singh had hailed the Canadian PM as his 'very good friend,' Obhrai told rediff.com.
During the press meet, a Canadian reporter observed that several Canadian ministers have visited India or are on their way to India including Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, but no delegation from India has visited Canada so far. He added that Canada was "facing a lot of competition in getting Indian attention."
'We have their attention because from a variety of diplomatic and Indo-Canadian sources on the business side, we have been urged to move and to make sure we are over there. We also recognise that they are one of the huge growing economies right now. They have probably the fastest growing middle class right now and everybody knows that," responded Day.
He pointed out that the national elections were around the corner and "when that happens, locally elected people tend to stay a little closer to home. But we have positive signals from our counterparts in India."
Day told rediff.com that he would take up the issue of the proposed Indo-Canadian free trade agreement with Commerce Minister Kamal Nath during his India visit.
Day is also scheduled to visit Hyderabad and Mumbai, where he will hold a series of meetings with the Indian business community. He will also meet Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan, Science and Technology Minister Kapil Sibal and ICICI Bank Managing Director K V Kamath.