The road to a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between New Zealand and India is now open, but it is still a long way to the destination, New Zealand’s High Commissioner to India Rupert Holborow said.
“The first round of discussions held in Wellington in April set the pace for negotiations, with both sides understanding the intricacies of issues involved. Broad terms and areas of engagements were also discussed at the meeting,” he said, speaking to Indian Newslink in Auckland on June 13.
Trade Minister Tim Groser told this reporter during his visit to our office on June 10 that he has had meetings with his Indian counterpart Commerce & Industry Minister Anand Sharma on more than one occasion and that both sides had agreed to facilitate the negotiations to reach a fruitful conclusion.
“We are upbeat about the process, confident that we would be able to iron out the differences and negotiate a deal that would be a win-win situation. The first meeting was useful in determining the initial parameters,” he said.
Mr Holborow agreed that export of agricultural and dairy products to India remained a sensitive issue, with New Delhi maintaining a ‘no-negotiation’ stand.
“But India accepts and recognises our stand that FTA negotiations would necessarily involve the agricultural and food sector. It all depends on how far each of us is ready to go to make the FTA comprehensive and useful for both countries,” he said.
The high incidence of tariff imposed on New Zealand wine is another sore point in the trade relationship with India. Both Mr Groser and his predecessor Phil Goff (now Leader of the Opposition) had taken up the issue with their Indian counterparts but to no avail, with the Union Government in New Delhi declaring that this was not a priority issue in trade relations.
New Zealand is however keen to improve its presence in India, indications of which were the opening of a Consular General’s office in Mumbai recently and doubling of Immigration New Zealand staff in India (see related story in Educationlink). Prime Minister John Key is keen to visit India during his first term in office (he has already accepted an invitation from India’s Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh) and the number of ministerial visits from both countries is on the rise.
The official visit of Governor General Anand Satyanand to India in September last year opened up new vistas of cooperation and bilateral relations, while the visit of Member of Parliament and General Secretary of the ruling Congress Party Rahul Gandhi to New Zealand in February 2010 as the first recipient of the Sir Edmund Hillary Fellowship tightened the two-nation bond.
Mr Holborow said almost all the 150 countries that had a diplomatic mission in New Delhi were keen to foster their bilateral ties with India.
“New Zealand is a small but important player in the Indian context with a number of shared values. We are a ‘recognised brand,’ but need to work harder to take our relationship to higher levels.
“We share India’s concerns on safety and security matters including the terrorist attacks in recent times,” he said.