British Columbia-India trade on the rise

Exports in transition from resources to technology products and services

Ballard ElectraGen-ME fuel cell backup power system installed at a telecom base station site

The volume of two-way trade between British Columbia and India is modest – only about $700 million per year – and consists mainly of B.C. minerals and forest products in return for Indian manufactured goods. But commerce between the two jurisdictions is growing, and B.C. is exporting an increasing amount of technology-related products and services.

For example, Ballard Power Systems (TSX:BLD, Nasdaq:BLDP), which makes fuel cell products, will be supplying its ElectraGen-ME fuel cell systems for a pilot project in Idea Cellular's India telecom network. Beginning midsummer 2014, the methanol-based fuel cell systems will be used with solar technology to generate continuous power at five wireless base station sites. The purpose of the project is to replace diesel generators in the Idea network with clean-energy technology.

“Ballard has been working in India for five years,” said vice-president of business and corporate development Karim Kassam. “We're also in discussion with two other India telecom providers.”

Another Vancouver company that has discovered the Indian market potential is Vancouver-based Westport Innovations (TSX:WPT, Nasdaq:WPRT), which manufactures natural gas engines and vehicles. The company is partnering with India's Tata Motors Ltd. on a new spark-ignited natural gas turbocharged engine that contains the Westport WP580 engine management system. The system has combustion control technology that optimizes engine performance and also satisfies engine emissions requirements.

“The technology is being used now on vehicles in many Indian big cities,” said Manoj Singh, Westport's senior director of South Asia market development.

India has a large fleet of natural gas light-duty vehicles, and the market opportunity for technology such as Westport's is growing as a natural gas fuelling infrastructure develops.

“The Indian market for Westport's technology will grow as the country moves from diesel to natural gas engines,”said Singh.

Kasi Rao, vice-president of the Toronto office of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, says growing trade with India is part of a slow, ongoing diversification of B.C. and Canadian commerce as they move away from the U.S. and toward other parts of the world, including Asia.

“Our first markets in Asia were Japan, Korea and Taiwan,” Rao said. “Now it's China and India. Later it will be such countries as Indonesia and Vietnam.”

Rao says the federal government and B.C. are making a concerted effort to penetrate the Indian market. For example, the India-Canada Centre for Innovative Multidisciplinary Partnerships to Accelerate Community Transformation and Sustainability (IC-IMPACTS) is a new initiative that is working to develop research collaborations between Canada and India. The centre brings together researchers from the University of British Columbia, the University of Alberta and the University of Toronto to find solutions to quality-of-life challenges in India and Canada.

Teresa Wat, B.C.'s minister of international trade, says India is “a priority market” for the province.

“Our companies, institutions and communities have products and solutions that India needs as it continues to grow,” Wat said in an email.

The ministry has three trade offices in India and in the last year has organized trade missions there for clean technology, agri-foods, mining, information and communications technology and life sciences.