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Indian PM pays visits to Canada, eager to complete trade deals

  First official visit to Canada since early 1970s will see Narendra Modi visit Sikh, Hindu temples in Lower Mainland

  BY PETER O'NEIL, VANCOUVER SUN APRIL 7, 2015

  Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi took office on May 26, 2014.

  Photograph by: DON EMMERT , AFP/Getty Images

  OTTAWA - Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is eager to cut major trade, investment and visa agreements with Canada as he prepares for a historic visit to Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver, according to India's top diplomat in Canada.

  Modi, the first prime minister to make an official visit to Canada since the early 1970s, will be in Vancouver April 16 as part of a three-day visit that includes earlier stops in Ottawa and Toronto.

  In addition to major events at a Sikh temple in Vancouver and a Hindu temple in Surrey, there are unconfirmed indications Modi and Prime Minister Stephen Harper will participate in a state dinner in the Lower Mainland to wrap up the tour.

  Canada has for years been negotiating with India on a free-trade agreement as well as a foreign investment protection agreement.

  There are also media reports suggesting that India is poised to announce that holders of Canadian passports can obtain visas upon arrival in India.

  Vishnu Prakash, India's high commissioner to Canada, wouldn't confirm whether the visa announcement will be made during Modi's visit.

  "People-to-people relations are very important, we will do what is possible," Prakash told The Vancouver Sun in an exclusive interview.

  "There are a number of ideas on the canvas. We are working on them, so look out for the next announcement and let's see how it shapes out."

  While no one expects an imminent breakthrough on free trade and investment agreement negotiations, he said Harper and Modi are prepared to use the meeting to accelerate momentum and ensure negotiators on both sides recognize there is the "political will" to bring talks towards successful conclusions.

  "The time has come to take the relationship to a new level," he told The Sun.

  "I can tell you with tremendous confidence that it (trade and investment deals) will happen sooner rather than later."

  Prakash noted that Modi, who as the chief administrator of Gujarat state from 2001 to 2014 won widespread praise for boosting the local economy, sees eye-to-eye with Harper on the need to expand Canada-India trade and investment ties.

  Modi and his government have "a laser-like focus on economic development."

  The diplomat confirmed that Modi will appear at the KhalsaDiwan Society Gurdwara on Ross Street in Vancouver, believed to be the first congregation established in North America.

  Modi, whose Bharatiya Janata Party is supported mainly by Hindu nationalists, will also pay a visit to the Lakshmi Narayan Hindu temple in Surrey.

  While Hindus vastly outnumber Sikhs in India, by far the largest portion of Indo-Canadians are Sikhs from the Punjab.

  poneil@postmedia.com

  Twitter.com/poneilinottawa

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