17/04/2015 9:27 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

Modi Invites Canada Banks, Insurers, Mutual Funds To Invest In India

COLE BURSTON via Getty Images
Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks alongside India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi (L) during a joint press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Canada on April 15, 2015. Prime Minister Modi will continue his official visit to Canada in Toronto and Vancouver. AFP PHOTO/ COLE BURSTON (Photo credit should read Cole Burston/AFP/Getty Images)

TORONTO — Top executives at Canada's largest banks, insurers and pension funds sounded bullish over investing in India after meeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is making the first bilateral visit to Canada by an Indian premier for 42 years.

Modi held a roundtable with the heads of major Canadian financial institutions in Toronto on Thursday, stressing that his government is focused on reducing bureaucracy and investment hurdles, and adding it would welcome investments in infrastructure projects.

He also said that he understood the need for consistency in regulation and that India has learnt from its past missteps.

The message resonated with Canadian business heads, some of whose firms have already lined up, or raised funds to invest in India following Modi's election victory last year.

"It's great to see a leader who's focused on reducing red tape, reducing roadblocks, and encouraging development." said Dean Connor, chief executive of insurer Sun Life Financial Inc that has had a presence in India for over 15 years.

"I don't think anybody thinks it will be easy, but he is an impressive leader and he's got an impressive track record," said Connor, noting that Modi clearly expressed that his government would not pursue retrospective application of tax rules, which has been a problematic issue for investors in the past.

Canadian pension funds and insurers have been pouring money into infrastructure, real estate, logistics and other assets overseas in the last few years, as they chase long-term returns.

Last year, Canada's largest pension fund manager the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB) said it would invest $332 million in infrastructure projects in India via a tie-up with engineering and construction firm Larsen & Toubro. Thats move came shortly after CPPIB had outlined investments in Indian real estate.

"We see great growth potential in India, and are encouraged by the significant reforms Prime Minister Modi has achieved less than one year after taking office," said Scotiabank CEO Brian Porter.

Others like Fairfax Financial run by noted value investor Prem Watsa are equally bullish. Watsa, who met with Modi briefly on Wednesday, earlier this year raised $1 billion via an IPO, with the funds exclusively earmarked for investments in India.

"The opportunities are huge and the $1 billion, we think is just the first billion we will be investing there," said Watsa, while speaking at Fairfax's shareholder meeting on Thursday.

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