Prime Minister John Key is scheduled to visit India this month for bilateral talks with his Indian counterpart Dr Manmohan Singh and other ministers in Delhi.
Although no official communication was available at press time, reliable sources in the Indian Capital confirmed that Mr Key will be in India over the next ten days and that his itinerary has been finalised by both Governments.
He will also meet India’s President Pratibha Patil during his stay in Delhi.
This would be Mr Key’s first visit to India and as such there is considerable excitement here. His official delegation is expected to include Trade Minister Tim Groser, National MP Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi, government officials, business and media persons.
India’s Commerce & Industry Minister Anand Sharma, who was in New Zealand in May, is reported to have discussed the visit during his meetings with Mr Groser and others in Wellington on May 10 (Indian Newslink, May 1, 2011).
Although the itinerary and agenda have not been made public, our sources said Mr Key will visit Mumbai and participate in business meetings.
The sources also said that Free Trade Agreement (FTA), Closer Economic Cooperation and a number of other bilateral issues will be discussed at official level talks.
The Indian Government will evince substantial interest in FTA as a part of its foreign policy strategy to enhance India’s economic presence in the Pacific region. According to officials in Delhi, a successful FTA with New Zealand will enable India to pursue a similar pact with Australia.
Mr Key and his officials may discuss some of the more thorny aspects of FTA including tariff-free export of agricultural, dairy and meat products from his country, although the Indian Government would deem this as non-negotiable. New Zealand currently enjoys a balance of payment surplus (about $700 million) in its $1 billion two-way trade with India. These issues have been a part of the on-going FTA negotiations between the two countries at official level.
New Zealand is keen to increase its export education revenue and would like to see increased student arrivals from India for higher tertiary education. Mr Key and his delegation will emphasise a number of advantages that New Zealand offers to students from India, including high quality learning at internationally renowned Universities and tertiary institutions, safety, security, a vibrant resident Indian community and lower cost of learning and living compared to Australia and other European countries.
As per 2010-2011 statistics, the number of fee-paying students from India currently studying in New Zealand is about 12,000, up from 3700 in 2005-20006.
Since 2007-08, India has been New Zealand’s third largest source country for education, after China and South Korea. Immigration New Zealand has reportedly approved more than 9150 student visa applications between July 2009 and February 2011.
From a political standpoint, Mr Key’s talks with Dr Singh may cover international and regional issues, the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting scheduled to be held in Australia on October 28, 2011 and perhaps nuclear disarmament. Dr Singh may seek New Zealand’s support in seeking Permanent Membership to the UN Security Council.
Mr Key’s visit will signal a paradigm shift in Indo-Kiwi relations. He would also renew his Government’s invitation to Dr Singh to visit New Zealand, which is likely to occur next year.
The Indian business community in both countries could play a crucial role in fostering bilateral ties and lift bilateral trade and investments to a higher level.
Balaji Chandramohan is our Correspondent based in Delhi. The above is exclusive to Indian Newslink ©
Neither New Zealand Prime Minister John Key nor Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh has visited either country but the two leaders speak to each other regularly on the sidelines of international meetings such as the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting held in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago on November 28, 2009.