Doing Business with India – Excerpts from Peter Walker presentation

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On March 19th, the Indo Canada Chamber of Commerce (ICCC) Halifax Business Council hosted Mr. Peter Walker for a dinner presentation at the Taj Mahal Restaurant in Halifax. Mr. Walker, a former high-commissioner to India, presented his thoughts on what it takes for  Canadian businesses to export to and invest in India. Here are some of the highlights of his presentation.

1. Do your homework

It is very important that you do your homework and learn as much as possible about the target market. This is true for any foreign venture, not just for India and in the case of India it is just essential to learn the lay of the land, to understand the major players for your industry, and to understand what is working successfully for already existing firms and why it is working. Peter stressed the availability of information and help through the Government of Canada (Trade commissioners, EDC etc) and urged new businesses to use them.

2. Deep pockets

To do business with India you must be prepared to be in there for the long haul. And it is not cheap to fly to India and to stay there. So make sure you have good financial backing before entering into the Indian scene.

3. Joint Ventures

Identifying a strong business partner in India is a good way to ensure success in that market. It is a country that values relationships and having a strong partner on the ground who understands the business culture will sure make it easy for new Canadian businesses entering the scene.

4. Have Patience

In conjunction with the Deep pockets, it is also good to have lots of patience. The World Bank rates India poorly on its ‘Ease of Doing Business’ rating, which identifies a number of areas where India needs to improve its business practices.  For example, it generally takes longer time to get through the bureacracy in India. Even simple things like registering property could take a lot more time that what Canadian firms are used to. Having patience will help you endure the wait and meet success.

Mr. Walker urged the ICCC Halifax Business Council to use its strong presence in Toronto and other regions to bring delegations to the Maritimes and increase the visibility of this region with Indian governments at all levels, business people and others. He also expressed his hope that both the governments will engage at the highest possible level to improve trade and relations.

Introducing ICCC Halifax Business Council



The Indo Canada Chamber of Commerce (ICCC) – Halifax Business Council was officially launched on November 21, 2007 at a gathering held at the Halifax Club, by Sunil Jagasia, President and Chair of the ICCC National. ICCC is the premier, not-for profit business organization with over 1000 members across Canada. The organization was founded in 1977, with the main objective of facilitating trade and commerce between Canada and India. It provides a platform for its members and non-members to network, share ideas, information and experiences in order to create synergy and business success. Over the last two years, the National office has expanded and has created a presence from coast to coast, with offices in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa and lastly, Halifax. There are also discussions underway to start a business council in Winnipeg. 

The Halifax Business Council

The Halifax Business council is the latest addition to the ICCC provincial councils. This council will serve the entire region of Atlantic Canada and promote awareness about India and business opportunities in this market. The Business council is governed by a Board of Directors, headed by Chair of the Business Council. The Halifax Business Council has adopted the following objectives for its operations.

  • To promote the interests of member organizations with respect to India and trade development/export development and investment attraction to Atlantic Canada
  • To provide a platform for networking for businesses and professionals with a vested interest in India
  • To provide learning opportunities through presentations, guest speakers, seminars and by disseminating trade information related to India
  • To become the first point of contact for inquiries related to doing business in India for Atlantic Canadian firms and vice-versa

The Board of Directors


From L to R : Pat Ryan (VP & COO, NSBI) , Tom Puthiakunnel (Director – Membership, ICCC), Rakesh Kochhar (Director – Events and PR, ICCC), Venkatesh Thyagarajan (Chair – ICCC Halifax), Satish Mehta (Consul General of India in Canada), Sunil Jagasia (President ICCC National), John Ludovice (Director Investment Attraction, ICCC Halifax, Bob Daigle (VP Business Development, NSBI) . Missing Tarun Biju, Director Business Development, ICCC Halifax and Justin Daoust, Associate Director, Events and PR.

The current ICCC – Halifax Business council is headed by Venkatesh Thyagarajan. In addition to Venkatesh, there are four more directors and one associate director. Directors in the board are (alphabetically) John Ludovice (NSBI), Rakesh Kochhar (Assante Capital Management), Tarun Biju (SNC-Lavalin) and Tom Puthiakunnel (United Travels). Justin Daoust, a student at St.Mary’s University, serves the role of Associate Director, Events and PR.  The board can be reached at the email

Year Ahead

 2008 is the first year of operation for the Halifax Business Council, but that does not mean that there will be a shortage of networking opportunities and events. On February 19th, the Business council hosted a luncheon at the Halifax Club and our guest speaker Don Robertson spoke on the topic of ‘Exporting to India’. The event was attended by over 35 guests and it was well received. Our next event is scheduled for March 19th and it will be a dinner event and the topic will be ‘Doing Business in India’. Our guest speaker for that event will be Mr. Peter F Walker, who served as the Canadian High Commissioner to India from 1997-2000. The board is also working on bringing other valuable networking opportunities to its members, including a charity fund raising golf event later in the summer.  

Who should become a member?

ICCC is for any individual or organization that has an interest in the growing trade relationship between India and Canada. Small businesses, service providers, students, venture capitalists, academics – all could benefit from being part of a national organization that has a wide reaching network. By being a member of the organization, you are always in touch with the latest happenings in the mutual trade relation between the two countries. Information about trade missions, networking events, prominent members in the trade world etc are disseminated to the members at regular intervals. Members also receive member prices to the ICCC events and within a short time, the savings itself would have paid for the membership fees. Members of the Halifax business council will receive a waiver of $100 (admin fee) when they join the Halifax Chamber of Commerce.

 How do I become a member? 

 Membership applications can be downloaded from our website at . Alternatively, you can contact the Halifax Business Council at with your request and one of our Directors will be in touch with you to speak about membership options and details.

Brand Canada, are we ready for it?

I was fortunate to read two stories today, and both from different perspectives but calling for more or less similar actions.

The first article I read was the coverage of the delegation from ICCC (Indo Canada Chamber of Commerce) visiting India. This interview appeared in the Indian Express and is attached with this message. ICCC Indian Express Coverage Here Sunil Jagasia, President of ICCC and leader of the delegation talks about creating the ‘Brand Canada’ in India and making the indian business houses aware of the potential held by Canada.

The second story appeared in the Globe and Mail and is written by Perrin Beatty. The story can be accessed here.  Here Perrin talks about the efforts that need to go into creating ‘Brand Canada’.

From reading both the stories, it is evident that we currently do not have a brand and that is true. Our biggest barrier is also the same, awareness about the region is minimal around the globe. And for some reason or other, we do not seem to get our act together and work as a team with others trying to promote the country. Most efforts in promoting Canada are led by territorial bodies, provincial economic development agencies and some private sector investment. Recently the Feds have joined in the game, but they still have not captured the imagination of all involved. The high level delegations are a good start, but what is still missing is the synergy. We still seem to be a cart that is pulled in different directions by our territorial horses.

India is just one of the target markets that Canada could benefit from and the Chambers of commerce (ICCC, Canada Chamber of Commerce and local chapters around Canada) are just one piece of the puzzle. We need more vision and leadership from the Federal government side of things to have a structured program to develop and successfully market Brand Canada. Hopefully that day is not too far away.

ICCC is coming to Halifax!

The Indo Canadian Chamber of Commerce (ICCC) is opening its Halifax council next week. ICCC is currently leading the efforts to improve the trade relation between Canada and India. It provides a platform to hold discussions, seminars, networking events and to bring expertise from both India and Canada together. The Toronto Council, which also serves as the ‘Mothership’ to all other councils has done a lot recently, in terms of organizing networking events and hosting several business and political leaders from India.

 The Vancouver council of ICCC was formally launched only this last Friday, November 9th. Now with a council in Vancouver and in Halifax, they can really claim to be a ‘coast to coast’ organization.

The timing of the launch could not be more appropriate, with a lot of discussion at Provincial level and in the private sector regarding business with India, ICCC should facilitate a lot of discussion among several stake holders in the region. The success of ICCC also depends on the same factors, on how much interest it can generate among the local businesses and the provincial government on matters related to India. Of all the cities where there is a council for ICCC (Ottawa, Montreal, Calgary are the others), Halifax is perhaps the city with the least number of Indo Canadians. But the mandate of the organization is not to serve the Indo Canadians or to act as a platform for them. So then the success also does not depend upon the size of the Indo Canadian community, but on the efforts of the organization to hold valid dialogues with other existing economic development and trade promotion agencies.

There are also a lot of professionals in the Indo Canadian community who did not have a proper organization to represent their networking interests. ICCC Halifax could fill in that gap and provide the unique opportunity to the Young Professionals. Recent technology sector boom in Halifax has attracted a lot of Indians to companies like Keane, CGI, RIM etc and ICCC could provide the venue for these professionals to interact and discuss their future.

The formal launch of the council is scheduled for November 21, 2007 at 5 PM. More details can be obtained by contacting ICCC directly from their website, at .

Watch this space for the report on the opening launch ceremony soon !


Build It, They will Come

HalifaxBuild It, They will come  

Venkatesh Thyagarajan

HalifaxHalifaxHalifaxHalifaxHalifaxTrivandrum TechnoparkTrivandrum TechnoparkA recent report on emerging outsourcing locations around the world, rated Halifax at 35th position. (Report is available online here ) The report talks about how companies are talking in terms of ‘Cities’ now, as opposed to talking of ‘Countries’ before. Also the decision on which city to choose is also dependent on the specific process which the company wants to outsource. These are termed as the ‘Key Processes’ a city specializes in, an example the report cites is Shanghai which is better suited for Finance and Accounting (FAO) outsourcing, as opposed to contact centres. The methodology used by the firm to rate the cities is quite simple – an exhaustive set of data points are used to add up to a broad set of categories and they are – Scale and Quality of workforce, business catalyst, financial, infrastructure, risk environment and quality of life. While reading the report and the profile on the top 15 emerging centres in the report, one cannot miss the similarities that all these centres have – low cost, plenty of talent, government support, infrastructure – these stand out as the key factors. Out of these, what do we have going for us here in Halifax?

  Low Cost 

I am not sure if we can still boast of being a ‘low cost’ centre, with Canadian dollar at par with US dollar. Still, real estate and set up costs are cheaper compared to our friends south of the border and a bit lower wages and payroll rebate all rolled in, could make Halifax a low cost option, but it certainly is not the primary deciding factor in favour of us. Cost of setting up an IT outsourcing centre can also be brought down by making Halifax an ‘easy to do business with’ location, by cutting down red tape, being proactive in giving information and just by having a welcoming attitude.


Going back to the report, corporations are seeking specific talents now before they create offshore centres. So, while we have four degree granting universities in town (and couple more within the province), are we focusing on creating the talent pool that corporations are seeking? Our current ‘Key Processes’ are application development, maintenance and support and customer service. We need to create affordable education opportunities that create talent pools in these areas to take advantage of existing outsourcing opportunities. The word affordable is very important here. Most technology/programming courses offered by our universities are highly expensive. One of the reasons why Bangalore and Chennai are on top of the list is the availability of hundreds of private training facilities that offer courses to young professionals in all programming languages and other related areas. Halifax lacks heavily in this segment. A new entrant to the field of IT will have a hard time finding a suitable course that will meet both his needs and the needs of the potential employer. We should encourage private sector to invest in training facilities, we need to build our technology base.  

Government Support 

How do the governments of India, China, and Philippines support the outsourcing? Tax breaks, easier visiting processes, expat visas and investment in infrastructure – all of these would seem to be the direct support from the government. But even before this outsourcing revolution started, these governments were doing something else – education. India churns out thousands of graduates every year. A well educated, English speaking graduate is available for corporations to take and mould them into the employee that they want. And we have a problem in our hands when enrolment in our universities is going down every year. Halifax stands out as one of the most expensive places in Canada for University education. So, we want to create a talent pool for companies, but few people can afford to go to University here. This is where we need government support. Let us think long term, let us create a vision that is longer than one year or five years or even twenty years. Let us build our talent pool, they will come seeking it.  


In 1993, when I graduated with an engineering degree, out of the 500 odd people who graduated with me about 450 left Trivandrum, Kerala. This was to seek employment in other major cities like Chennai, Bangalore, Mumbai etc. Today, there are half a dozen engineering colleges in Trivandrum (there was only one in 1993) and even then, only about 50% of graduates leave the town. While Trivandrum used to have the worst success rate for many businesses and factories, one of the success stories of Trivandrum is the Technopark ( . Kerala is a predominantly communist state and labour strikes usually end up closing any new ventures, but Technopark was a different story. Thanks to the existing facilities, today all major IT firms have an office in Trivandrum including TCS and Infosys.  

Relating that back to our report, what do the top 5 emerging cities have in common? They have a focussed IT infrastructure developed. Chennai is rated in the report as the number one emerging city. The IT corridor development project when completed will create one of the biggest IT concentrations in the world. A six lane highway, lined on both sides with companies like TCS, Infosys, Accenture, EDS, Satyam, Cognizant is a dream come true for corporations looking to relocate their offshore offices. The story is not different in Pune, Hyderabad or any other emerging city. Of course, Bangalore was one of the first cities to have a ‘IT park’ and the benefits are obvious. They were much ahead of the game to focus on IT and the rewards were on their way.  What do we take from that? We need to have the required infrastructure for companies to relocate and start their centres here. Even the much hyped RIM had to face certain difficulties to obtain office space. So how can we promise that to an Indian firm that wants to set up its BPO operations here? Even if we don’t build an IT park, we should at least have it in our planning. The IT Park will need easy access, close by residential developments, eateries, other office services etc. Burnside Industrial park is fit for industries, heavy trucks and easy access to the highway for transporting goods in and out. What we also need is an IT park. 

 Action Time 

So, where does all this leave us? Are we happy with our rank as the 35th city? Or do we want to improve on our ranking? Our USP is our location, proximity to the US client base. Only Buenos Aires and Sao Paulo among the top 15 have this advantage, even they are no where as close to the US as we are. And this is a natural advantage that no competition can take away from us. So let us then focus on what specific talent pool that we should build here to make us more attractive. Some possible actions that can be taken include

  • Attracting private investment on training institutions. The government should provide all necessary assistance for starting these centres. Attracting foreign firms is a thought. NIIT ( revolutionized IT education in India. Given the proper consideration, an expansion to Canada may not be all that complicated for these training giants.
  • Subsidizing University education is a key thing. If a country of the size of India, with far less resources and far more students, can subsidize University educations, why can’t we do that in Canada?
  • We need an IT Technopark, if we are to become an IT outsourcing city. There is no two way about it, it has to be built if they are to come.

 We do not have the same level of low cost advantage that many of the other top cities have. So we have to excel in other areas that will make Halifax an attractive outsourcing destination. We have to do it and we have to do it soon. Let us not sit on the side and wave to the world as it passes by, let us be part of the procession and let’s lead from the front. Let us build it, they will come.  

International Students and Halifax – Some thoughts

[This could be seen as Part 3 of the Gateway Series, but I am not sure what is included in the Gateway and what is not, at this point. So I am ‘un’tagging the Gateway to these articles]

Halifax is an University town. With Dal, SMU and Mount, we have three major universities and many more academic institutions around. And they all attract a good amount of international students to their programs. But the sad part of the equation is that we are unable to retain most of these graduates in Halifax or even Nova Scotia. The job situation is probably the most important reason why most people take off from the Province as soon as they graduate and there are higher powers debating on how to improve that situation. I am not going into the economic development part of the problem in this blog, but this is more towards the local community and other agencies (GHP, MISA etc) and what they can do to improve the situation.

The challenges faced by international students are a bit different from those faced by new immigrants. The clue is probably right there in that sentence. International Students are not landed immigrants. The visa status prohibits them from doing work outside the campus etc. I think the universities should be proactive and have sessions on immigration as soon as a new student lands here in Halifax. Immigration is an important process and it also gives them a peace of mind to know that their status in the country is secure. Many western universities send the application forms for immigration along with their student information package. Looking at the feedback from students here, major universities in Halifax still don’t do that.

Students are seldom involved/included in community activities. It is a shame and there is a lot to blame on both parties and all community leaders/organizers (including yours truly) are to be blamed for this. Of course, there is a lot of difference between the interest of students and the local community. But the local community must take steps to welcome the students and make them feel at home. Transportation is often cited as a major problem for students to participate in events. I am sure with some planning and thought, this could be solved.

Speaking specifically of the Indian student population, the situation is pathetic, funny, ironical all at the same time. It is pathetic because there is a large number of students who come here, but still most of them suffer to find accomodation in the first few weeks. They complete their two or three years of study and even at the end of it they are unaware of the major population that is living outside the campus. Even our Indian profs are not helping the situation. Fearing comments about prejudice and favoritism, Indian profs usually stay clear of students from India and limit their interactions to what is required for the study purposes. The student obviously is scared to approach the prof for any other information, especially given the nature of student-teacher relationship in an Indian context.

The student bodies of Indisa and Sisa (not sure if both are in existence now) are often loosely held and even there the friendships are formed among students of Canadian origin, again leaving the new comer or off the boat students out.

Thus, most students take their term in Halifax as some kind of jail time, spend it here, graduate and disappear to Toronto, to be among other community members and start their working life. There is a lot more that could be done here in these terms. But where are the resources? Who wants to take the initiative? Is GHP the right place to start? Maybe.


Canada’s Automotive Mission to India

Couple of weeks ago, I received the notification about the ‘Automotive Mission to India’. The mission is organized mainly by Automotive Parts Manufacturer’s Association (APMA, ) in conjunction with Government of Canada, Province of Ontario and Export Development Canada. The nucleus of the mission is the AutoExpo happening in New Delhi from Jan 10 – 17. But then it is followed up by one on one networking sessions and other meetings.  

What caught my attention was the planning that went into this trade mission and particularly, the focus on one sector. Naturally, when companies in Canada go half way around the globe to India, they want to gather as much information and contacts as possible. But when it comes to the provincial and federal government representatives travelling to India, they have a much broader vision and it certainly helps to have a clear focus to achieve good results. I tend to agree with the organizers to have focused on the Auto sector for this year’s trade mission. 

 I did mention about the planning of this mission. There are many events that are organized that lead up to the trade mission. In June, there was a breakfast meeting on the topic of India Automotive. Early in September, the AGMs of Automotive Components Manufacturers Association (ACMA, parallel body of APMA in India) is held in New Delhi. Later in September, on the 25th, there is a conference organized by APMA in Toronto to give the members a flavour of the Indian market. This conference, will host a few key speakers from the Indian Automotive sector. In December of this year, the APMA outlook conference will be held and in January the mission to India happens.  

As one can see, there is a six month gear up period for interested parties to learn more about the sector, its growth and potential in India and to start establishing contacts. This is the right combination of time, meetings and personnel for such an objective. I congratulate the organizers behind this task for creating the program.  In my opinion, these are the factors that are going well for this trade mission.

1.      A nice collaborative approach between the private sector and the governments (provincial and federal)

2.      Mission is driven by APMA, with support from other agencies and consultants. The key point here is, the agency that is closest to the industry/cause should be the leader of the mission and others should play a supporting role. From the outset, it seems to be the case in this mission.

3.      Lot of preparation time for sponsors, participants from both sides

4.      The conference in Toronto in September with Indian guest speakers a unique pre-mission experience for participants. Also it gives them a chance to follow up from their contacts during the actual trade mission in January 

From all the information material, it was not clear if ACMA  was also  working towards the same goal and publicizing the trade mission in India. The interest needs to be kept high on both sides of the table for good conversations to take place.  

I am looking forward to hearing some success stories from the trade mission ! Good luck to all participants and organizers ! And special thanks to Murray A Jans for all the information on the trade mission.