OTTAWA - With the ink barely dry on his country's long sought nuclear co-operation agreement, India's top diplomat says his county is setting its sights on increasing the flow of oil and gas imports from Canada.
Indian High Commissioner Nirmal Verma also said that his country would like to see the completion of a pipeline to Canada's east coast that would carry Alberta crude to Atlantic Ocean ports.
Verma told The Canadian Press that India would consider investing in the proposed Energy East Pipeline project, if clears regulatory hurdles and moves ahead.
"The issues are getting the energy out of where it is located in central Canada to tidal waters," Verma said in an interview this week at his Ottawa office.
"I suppose that once there is assurance that seems to be happening, I would expect investment to come in the port sector or liquefaction plants, particularly on the east coast. There is a great opportunity there."
India is the world's fourth-largest energy consumer, but Canada hasn't cracked the top 20 of its energy suppliers. Verma said Canada has the potential to offer cheaper oil and gas options to his country, despite the long distance of shipping it across the Atlantic and Indian oceans.
India is a lucrative market for Canada, as the Harper government seeks to expand trade with Asia in order to ease its dependence on the United States.
"There has been quite a bit of dialogue between the major energy producers in Canada, and also the importers on our side, in the public and private sector," said Verma.
Energy discussions between the two countries were formally elevated to the ministerial level last year when Prime Minister Stephen Harper visited India.
Verma said India's cabinet minister on energy will be Ottawa later this month for talks with his counterpart, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver.
India and Canada just last week finalized their nuclear co-operation agreement, a three-year process that will allow Canadian uranium to be sold to India for reactor fuel.
India expects to have a dozen new reactors operating in the next decade and wants to at least triple electricity production.
Canada is hungry to find buyers for its nuclear industry, and boost its $1 billion a year in uranium sales.
"The agreement with India will permit Canadian companies to reach an important new market for Canadian uranium, nuclear technology, services and equipment," Oliver said in a statement last week.
The two countries signed the agreement in June 2010 but it took three years to finalize. That's because the details of surrounding a key issue had to be ironed out: ensuring that an independent process was in place to ensure the Canadian uranium is used for peaceful purposes.
India used a Canadian-supplied reactor to create the fuel that was responsible for the country's test blast of a nuclear bomb in 1974. That duplicity soured relations between the two countries for decades.
Harper has said the time has come to turn the page on that and move forward.
"It's a very major step forward that has taken place in the co-operation agenda," said Verma, a retired admiral and former chief of India's navy.
"We've come a long way from 1974."
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