UAE Slaps Canada With Visa Requirements Amid Spat

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates-- The United Arab Emirates will soon force Canadians to get a visa to travel to the Persian Gulf federation as ties sour between the once-close countries.

The new requirement announced by the UAE's embassy in Ottawa comes amid an increasingly bitter spat centered on landing rights for Emirati airliners. The dispute has already cost Canada access to a military air base that is a crucial link in the supply line for its mission in Afghanistan.

Previously Canadians, like travelers from the U.S., much of Europe and a number of other countries, generally didn't have to apply for a visa before coming to the Emirates and simply had their passports stamped on arrival.

That visa waiver policy will no longer apply to Canada because relations had dipped to a point where they were "neither healthy nor hopeful," according to an official source in the UAE capital Abu Dhabi with knowledge of the matter.

The visa waivers are granted to countries with a special relationship ... built on economic and other areas of close and growing cooperation," said the person, who was granted anonymity to speak freely about diplomatic matters. "The current status of relations with the government in Canada compared with other countries on the visa waiver program is at a much lower level... It isn't fair to include it with countries with which we have a healthy and productive relationship."
Emiratis need a visa to travel to Canada.

Some 25,000 Canadians live in the Emirates, which is Canada's largest trade partner in the Middle East, according to the UAE. About 200 Canadian companies have operations in the Gulf state.

Jacques Labrie, a spokesman for Canada's Foreign Affairs minister, confirmed that all Canadians traveling to the UAE will need visas beginning Jan. 2.

"All sovereign states have the right to decide the entry requirements for visitors to their countries," Labrie said in an e-mail.

Emirati officials have ratcheted up the pressure on Ottawa after failing to secure additional landing rights for their growing government-backed airlines.

Abu Dhabi last month moved to bar Canada from using a secretive air base outside Dubai that was expected to play an important role in the drawdown of Canadian troops and equipment from Afghanistan. Canada contributes about 2,900 troops to the NATO-led mission.

A UAE official has said the Emirates lobbied against Canada's bid for a non-permanent United Nations Security Council seat. Canada pulled out of the race after falling behind rivals in an early round of voting in what was seen as a significant setback for the G-7 economic power.

The UAE has pushed Canada for years to win greater access for its state-run carriers Emirates and Etihad Airways, arguing they should be allowed more flights to keep up with demand. The two carriers are growing rapidly by launching long-haul routes that funnel travelers through their hubs in Dubai and Abu Dhabi for connecting flights.

Air Canada has argued against increasing the flights, saying little passenger traffic originates from the UAE. It says the airlines are merely taking Canadians to third countries with stopovers in the Gulf.

Emirates and Etihad each run three flights a week to Canada, from Dubai and Abu Dhabi respectively.

Emirates, the Mideast's largest airline, uses its biggest plane, the double-decker Airbus A380, on the Dubai-Toronto route. It says the route -- served by a wide-body Boeing 777-300ER until June 1 last year -- averaged occupancy levels of more than 90 percent throughout 2009, the most recent year for which it had figures available.

Word of the new visa rules comes just over a month after the UAE dropped its threat to ban key data features on BlackBerry smart phones. The devices, popular with affluent UAE residents, are made by Research in Motion Ltd., one of Canada's most prominent companies.