Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts at the Golden Temple

Surrey binding ties with India

Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts has returned from a trade mission to fast-growing India, saying she’s impressed by the power of the country’s economy.

“The potential is enormous,” she said Tuesday. “What surprised me was the readiness of people to conduct business and move forward.”

Twenty-four Surrey-based companies took part in the 10-day trip, conducting 110 meetings in seven major cities, including Mumbai, New Delhi, Bangalore, Chandigarh, Jalandhar, Ludhiana and Amritsar.

“It was very hectic, but there are significant deals on the table. The next piece moving forward is to implement them,” said Watts.

The trade mission looked at sectors like wood manufacturing, Bollywood-type film, education, Indian food, and research and development. Watts said specific deals included:

Life-sciences company bioLytical Laboratories securing an eighthospital commitment for its rapid HIV testing unit. It will be used to quickly diagnose thousands of Indian victims of the deadly disease;

Simon Fraser University signing memorandums of understanding on student and faculty exchanges and “groundbreaking” fuel cell technology for buses; and

Surrey-based Wok Box Fresh Asian Kitchens weighing multiple offers from major Indian conglomerates to take the business countrywide.

Watts said the business relationships will work both ways, bringing customers to Surrey and also allowing institutions like SFU to work on technologies that could be adapted for manufacture in the sub-continent, where there is a sizable labour force.

But she said there are technical issues to be worked out with some B.C. products like Western red cedar. “They haven’t accepted it yet. There are lingering issues about things like the fumigation process,” she said.

She also noted that federal regulations in film editing and production need to be worked through in both countries so the Bollywood initiatives can move forward.

Watts said the civic role was to provide an official framework to enable businesses to develop relationships, “not to play a business role ourselves.”

Surrey tries to attract economic growth with investment zones, where no property taxes are levied for three years.

The city’s industrial land reserves are the largest in the Metro Vancouver region, centred around the Campbell Heights business park in the southeast area of the city.

The trip cost Surrey taxpayers about $130,000. It was attended by Watts, three councillors and three staffers. The councillors included Indo-Canadians Tom Gill and Barinder Rasode. Twenty-seven per cent of Surrey’s 462,000 population is of South Asian descent.

“Surrey has deep and strong natural ties to the people of India, and it was important for me to experience India firsthand to fully understand those ties,” said Watts.

India is becoming one of the world’s economic leaders. The country is expecting 8.5-per-cent annual growth this year. Canadian officials want to virtually quadruple bilateral trade with India to $15 billion.

This article first appeared HERE.