Toronto: India appeared prominently in the heat of the Canadian election campaign on Thursday when Prime Minister Stephen Harper said to accelerate the signing of free trade agreements with New Delhi and the European Union, if his party returned to power.

Harper promised that the free trade agreement with the European Union will be signed by next year and with India by 2013.

Harper said his government would set firm deadlines for wrapping up free-trade talks with India and the European Union.

“Canada is a trading nation. That's why since taking office we have made expanding and improving access to foreign markets such a priority,'' said the prime minister, wooing voters for his Conservative Party for the May 2 general elections to elect the country's 41st parliament.

Harper's government has made India a priority nation for deepening trade ties after he took power in 2006.

During Harper's visit to India in November 2009, he started talks on a comprehensive economic partnership agreement (CEPA) to take their commercial ties in trade and services to higher levels.

The two-way trade between India and Canada is currently about $5 billion and the two countries plan to triple it by 2015.

Once signed, the CEPA will give preferential access to the two markets.  It will eliminate tariffs on most goods, create opportunities in services, set rules in investment and cut non-tariff barriers.

After the free trade agreement, Canadian exports - forest products, nickel, aircraft, electrical machinery, fish and seafood products and agricultural products (cereals, lentils) - will get free access to the Indian market.

India's exports of precious stones, diamonds, jewellry and apparel to Canada are also expected to rise substantially after the agreement is signed.

To deepen economic engagement with India, Harper's government has also opened four new trade offices in India.

(Agencies)