OTTAWA // A new visa requirement for Canadians visiting the UAE was entirely avoidable and could hurt Canadian businesses, critics of the country's Conservative government say.
"This could have a potential effect on large enterprises as well as smaller firms," said Paul Dewar, the foreign affairs critic for the New Democratic Party. "I think there will be a substantial ripple effect."
For example, multinational engineering firms could simply conduct their UAE business from their offices in countries such as the US, Mr Dewar said. The costly new visa could also prompt some smaller companies that do business with the UAE to consider moving their headquarters out of Canada, he said.
The Liberal MP Dan McTeague said he was dismayed that prime minister Stephen Harper's government allowed a small trade issue over landing rights to escalate this far.
"This is a complete Conservative ideological snafu," he said.
The comments come after the UAE went ahead with plans to impose visa requirements on Canadians with a hefty cost of up to 1,000 Canadian dollars (Dh3,689) for a six-month multiple-entry visa.
By comparison, Canada charges UAE citizens Dh220 for a single-entry visa and Dh440 for a multiple-entry visa. The maximum charge for a family applying together is Dh1,170. MPs say they are already getting calls from constituents and business people grumbling.
Nevertheless, the Canadian foreign affairs minister Lawrence Cannon's office is playing down the impact, saying the UAE is simply implementing a 2009 decision and Canada already requires UAE citizens to get a visa.
His office lashed out at political opponents for criticising the government's decision not to grant additional landing rights to the UAE's two airlines.
"With regard to air rights, it's rather surprising to see the Liberal opposition choose to take the position of the UAE rather than defend the interests of Canadian workers and the Canadian economy at a time when we need it most," said Melissa Lantsman, the spokeswoman for Mr Cannon.
The new requirement is the latest blow to relations between Canada and the UAE. The UAE has been trying unsuccessfully to negotiate a deal to allow Emirates and Etihad to expand their service to Canada. Each of the airlines now flies three times a week to Toronto but they would like to expand to other cities such as Calgary or Vancouver and increase service to Toronto.
Opponents argue the existing flights serve the need for service to the UAE and that the UAE airlines are simply trying to grab a bigger share of the air travel market.
The dispute has resulted in Canada moving out of its military base in Dubai, which is expected to cost Canada millions of dollars.
Further aggravating the dispute was Canada's decision in October to negotiate a landing-rights agreement with Qatar. The Canadian government said the agreement was the result of improving relations between the countries.