TORONTO: The friendship between Canada and India was stronger than ever before and both nations should continue to work to remove the barriers that hinder bilateral trade and investment, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said.

“The friendship between Canada and India is stronger, it is stronger than it has ever been and that is something that we all, in both of our countries, should be very proud of,” Harper said while addressing a programme to commemorate India’s 68th Independence Day here last night.

“The Government will continue to work to break-down barriers that hinder bilateral trade and investment, and that senior members of our Government will continue to visit India,” Harper said. “Just a couple of years ago I had the great fortune of returning to India,” Harper said adding that “because one trip was obviously not near enough to even to scratch the surface of that large, ancient and fascinating civilisation”.

“Since taking office our Government has worked hard to revitalise and strengthen Canada-India relations. We have concluded a Social Security Agreement, an historic Nuclear Cooperation Agreement, and we have launched our own bilateral Canada-India free trade negotiations,” Harper said.

Referring to Immigration Reforms, Harper said that the reforms have been working and they have been working well. “Today, the permanent residency approval rate for applicants from India is more than 85 per cent. I should add that these men and women don’t have to wait another four or five or six years for their residency because our Government has reduced processing times for recent applicants down to just one year”.

He said that in 2005, fewer than twenty-five hundred student visas were granted to Indian students. Last year, our government granted more than fourteen thousand such visas. “More Indian students than ever before are studying at Canadian universities, and because our Government has made it easier for these bright young minds to qualify for permanent residency and to work, we hope these students, many of them, will stay and put their Canadian degrees to use right here in Canada,” he added.

Referring to visitor visa reforms, Harper said: “Our government has also made the CAN+ program in India a permanent feature of our immigration system, meaning that persons who have travelled to Canada or the United States in the recent past can be fast-tracked for a visitor visa”. “Our CAN+ program has a 95 per cent approval rate, making more Indians able to visit Canada as tourists or to do business,” he said.

“Look we all know that immigration enriches this country, and our government’s ongoing reforms mean that more immigrants will be able to contribute to their maximum of their capacity, and that is good for everyone,” he added.

Commending the contributions made by the Indo-Canadian Community in the economic development of Canada, Harper said that wherever Indian immigrants settle, wherever they choose to put down roots, to start businesses, to raise families, be it Vancouver, Calgary, Montreal, Toronto or right here in Brampton, not by coincidence, those places thrive.

“Today, India is Canada’s top source country for immigrants. And of course, this explains why Canada’s Indo-Canadian community is more than 1.2 million strong and continuing to grow. The Indo-Canadian community has a proud and rich history in our country,” he said.

“This community – the Indo-Canadian community – is comprised of ordinary people doing extraordinary things in business and in finance, in academia and medicine, in technology and agriculture, to list just a few areas,” he added.

Giving an example, Harper said Naval Bajaj came to Canada from India ten years ago with only USD 600 in his pocket. “With hard work and determination, Naval eventually became a business consultant with 7-Eleven Canada and he is also a business owner himself. Naval Bajaj was the youngest ever elected president of the Indo- Canada Chamber of Commerce,” Harper said.

Referring to economic achievements of Gujarat, Harper said: “The state of Gujarat in particular – the state where Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi served as chief minister for more than a decade – is home to some of the brightest and best entrepreneurial minds in the world”.

“Our government sees tremendous potential for growth in collaboration with this regional economic powerhouse and we have been working hard to make this a priority for several years. Canada was pleased to serve as an official partner for Vibrant Gujarat 2011”.

“And two years later, at Vibrant Gujarat 2013, not only did Canada serve as an official partner, but Minister Jason Kenney travelled all the way to Gujarat to represent Canada at the summit and to address all of its attendees,” Harper added.

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