By David Shipley
As appeared on page B1

New Brunswick is a natural gateway for trade with India, says the president of the Canada-India Business Council.

“Since Saint John is closer to India than Vancouver, it should become a natural gateway,” said Kam Rathee, president and executive director of the Toronto-based group.

Rathee was in New Brunswick recently to promote the idea of an Atlantic Canada-India business corridor with the provincial government.

During his time in Fredericton Rathee met with Premier Shawn Graham.

“The premier was very excited and was taking detailed notes,” said Rathee. “Personally I was very impressed by the premier, he was young and energetic.”

India represents a burgeoning business opportunity for ports in the region, said Rathee, noting connections have already been established between New Brunswick and India through companies such as the Aditya Birla Group.

AV Birla is involved with two cellulose facilities in Atholville and Nackawic. Last year the multinational firm also purchased Minacs Worldwide, a call centre firm with operations in Moncton.

“India is the hot commodity, it’s an up-and-coming economy, it has an easier business climate than China,” he said, noting there are 30 ports in India undergoing expansions and upgrades.

Rathee said he’s hoping all four provincial governments, along with the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and the region’s port authorities and businesses, will undertake a trade mission in the fall to India.

“It’s a lot easier for four provinces to go and get attention,” he said.

While there are opportunities for Atlantic Canada in India, the region will be entering a highly-sought after market.

“Ontario, B.C. and Quebec have been playing this game for a long time and have traction.”

ACOA spokesman Richard Gauthier said discussions on a trade mission to India are in the early stages.

“ACOA is in discussions with respect to how to best tap into the fast-growing Indian market on a pan-Atlantic basis,” he said.

A spokeswoman for Premier Graham said the province is also taking a look at such a trip.

“Business New Brunswick Minister Greg Byrne led a 10-day investment and trade mission to India in November, and cultivated important contacts with new businesses while further developing our relationship with the Birla Group and Sunflag,” said Marie-Andrée Bolduc.

“Undertaking another mission is certainly something we are looking at, but at this time, the discussions between the province of New Brunswick and the Canada-India Business Council are preliminary.”

Charles Cirtwill, acting president of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, said a pan-Atlantic trade mission to India would be a great idea.

“Two thousand-four hundred kilometres, that’s how much closer the ports in Atlantic Canada are to India than any other ports in Northern America,” he said. “There’s potential not only to grow our access to the Indian market and the Indian access to our market.”

Cirtwill said the idea of a business and trade corridor between Atlantic Canada and India fits “part and parcel” with the Atlantica trade bloc concept.

“I think this is the area where (the four provincial governments) can probably do the most to help Atlantica grow faster and that’s by building this potential market.”

Cirtwill said along with the business advantages that come with stronger ties to India, there’s also the potential to attract more immigration to Atlantic Canada.

Cirtwill said Atlantic Canada should mount an “aggressive” marketing campaign in India to tout the advantages of doing business with the region.

Such a campaign could pitch different ports in the region such as Halifax or Saint John, depending on what the particular business needs in India.

“Everybody talks about China as this power centre, but for the most part China is going to be serviced by the West Coast. India really is the opportunity for ports here on the East Coast.”