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Arif Lalani, the Canadian ambassador to UAE, says the high-profile disagreement between the two countries over landing rights is only a small part of their relationship.
Arif Lalani, the Canadian ambassador to UAE, says the high-profile disagreement between the two countries over landing rights is only a small part of their relationship.

Canada seeks level terms with the UAE on visas

Canada wants to return to level terms with the UAE on visa-entry requirements after it was dropped from the Emirates' free-visa system.

ABU DHABI // Canada wants to return to level terms with the UAE on visa-entry requirements after it was dropped from the Emirates' free-visa system.

The new Canadian ambassador to the UAE, Arif Lalani, said he was confident the countries "will get to a point where the visa relationship will be comparable".

"What is needed is a longer multiple-entry visa as this would be good for business," Mr Lalani said.

In January last year the UAE dropped Canada from a list of 33 countries whose citizens can obtain a free visa on arrival.

The move followed a diplomatic disagreement between the two countries over airline landing rights in Canada and the closure of its military base in Dubai.

Mr Lalani, who was born in Uganda but is of Indian descent, said relations between the UAE and Canada were strategic and a dispute over one issue did not define the relationship.

"Our relationship is one of the largest trading relationships in the region," he said. "The UAE is our largest merchandise export market and we have over 35,000 Canadians who work here and about 135 Canadian companies."

Mr Lalani said the landing rights issue, where Canada is refusing to allow extra Emirates Airline and Etihad Airways flights to land in the country, is "only one issue in a huge relationship".

"I see this as a period of renewal," he said. "His Highness Sheikh Abdullah [bin Zayed, Minister for Foreign Affairs] has visited Canada twice at the invitation of our foreign minister, which is unprecedented.

"We have not seen this in the region, and our foreign minister has been here twice, also over the past year, to attend the Sir Bani Yas Forum."

Since Canada was dropped from the free-visa list, its citizens have been asked to pay C$250 (Dh925) for a non-renewable 30-day visitor's visa; C$500 for a three-month stay; or C$1,000 for a multiple-entry six-month visa.

The second option is only available to visitors who travel on Emirates or Etihad, as is a short-term visa of four days for C$61.50.

Canadians who hold UAE residency and want to bring parents and immediate relatives over for a visit are charged C$74.5 for a 30-day visa that is extendable by another 30 days.

Travellers are advised to apply to the UAE Embassy in Ottawa 15 days in advance, although the process going through the national airlines takes between five and seven days.

Mr Lalani said he was pleased with the goodwill shown with the expanded time for multiple entry, and for decreased prices.

"We provide a 10-year multiple entry visa to Emirati nationals or up to the validity of their passport," he said. "We have a five-day delivery service, on average, so the time length is also not an issue."

Last month, six Canadian Members of Parliament were in the country to raise funds for autism research, but it has also been established that they met Tim Clark, president of Emirates, to discuss the landing-rights issue.

Mr Lalani refused to be drawn on the subject, saying it was a private visit and the MPs did not negotiate on behalf of the Canadian government.

"At the end of the day this is a business issue and will be dealt with through the businesses," he said.

"We stopped our negotiations on this a while ago and we have agreed to move forward on other issues and not restart on this again."

Mr Lalani said business between the two countries is growing.

"The nuclear agreement in September was a great bilateral move and shows that our relationship is moving from strength to strength," he said.

He said little-known facts about UAE-Canadian relations include the fact that dirhams are minted by the Royal Canadian Mint.

"Also, the first bridge in Abu Dhabi and international airport in the UAE was built in 1965 by Canadian companies," Mr Lalani said.

He was born in 1966 in Uganda and travelled with his family to Canada after Idi Amin expelled Ugandans of Asian descent in 1971.

"I was posted in Washington and New York during our time in the Security Council and I have served as ambassador in Turkey, Jordan and Afghanistan," Mr Lalani said.

amustafa@thenational.ae

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