New envoy to India promises work beyond FTA

Venkat Raman –

New Zealand’s new envoy to India Joanna Kempkers started off on the right foot when she said that her primary objective would be to work with the business community in India and find new ways of connecting its investors with counterparts in New Zealand.

Speaking at a meeting organised by the India New Zealand Business Council (INZBC) at Deloitte Centre in Auckland Central on December 13, 2016, she recognised the need to strengthen ties between the two countries through hard work rather than rhetoric, that has been rampant in recent years.

“A lot of good work has been done on the ground and I will endeavour to do more. There is ample potential for growth,” she said.

A career-diplomat, Ms Kempkers has had a distinguished career at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and her immediate past posting was in Rarotonga as New Zealand’s High Commissioner to Cook Islands.

Complex Mechanism

From Rarotonga to New Delhi would be a far cry for, as well as heading the diplomatic mission in a country of complex political and economic machinery, Ms Kempkers would also be responsible for Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh. With the mission in Colombo being upgraded to a full status of a High Commission (as announced by former Prime Minister John Key during the visit of his Sri Lankan counterpart Ranil Wickramasinghe on October 2, 2016), Ms Kempkers would have a larger responsibility than her predecessors unless an independent High Commissioner is posted to the Sri Lankan capital in due course.

It is customary for politicians and speakers to refer to the ‘extremely strong relationship that New Zealand and India enjoy with each other based on the tenets of Democracy, Judiciary, English Language and the Commonwealth.’ And there is the standard statement of ‘Love of Cricket.’ But the intrinsic differences and the frosty attitude in New Delhi has never been publicly discussed.

It is however time to do so.

If New Zealand wants to make progress with India and bring solid investments- not just students – it must revisit its strategy and try to segregate politics from business. The former has a number of thorny issues that touch the core of our existence and hence would require tact, time and patience.

Fortunately, Ms Kempkers realises the realities.

Growing trade ties

“While a FTA would undoubtedly be a catalyst for growth in the bilateral trade and economic relationship, there is more that could and should be done to advance our economic ties. New Zealand trades successfully with many countries without a FTA, and we can with India too,” she said at the INZBC meeting.

Ms Kempkers was a member of the official delegation led by former Prime Minister John Key to Delhi on October 26 and 27, 2016 and had an opportunity to experience first-hand how the administrative machinery works in India. She would have sufficient opportunities to work closely during her three-year tenure with her counterparts in the South Block, which also houses the office of the Prime Minister of India in New Delhi.

Indian Newslink hopes to work closely with Ms Kempkers and her team and support her in achieving New Zealand’s objectives.

Good support

She received similar words of support from a few at the INZBC meeting.

New Zealand Trade & Enterprise Regional Director (India, Middle East and Africa) based in Dubai said that he and his team were working hard in India and Auckland to support Kiwi businesses to transition or grow in India.

“I welcome more businesses to start work with India and grow their business there. I welcome Ms Kempkers in her new role,” he said.

Sir Ken Stevens, Executive Chairman of Glidepath Group, a specialist baggage handling company, which has completed more than 800 projects including the Kochi International Airport in South India said that he was keen to work with the new envoy.

“We are expanding in India and look forward to work with the New Zealand High Commission and the new High Commissioner,” he said.

INZBC Head of Government Relations Wenceslaus Anthony said that the new envoy is an experienced diplomat and that she would easily understand the Indian culture and values, which are rooted in tradition and protocols.

“John Key has been a great champion of the India-New Zealand relations, with his two trips to India. Mr Key had supported all the initiatives of the council, with him attending all the three summits done so far. We are sure that Bill English will take on the baton from here and help the relations grow to even higher levels,” he said.

INZBC treasurer, Bhav Dhillon described the current period as ‘exciting times’ and claimed that INZBC is the link that continues to exchange cross-border relationships.

“We hope to work closely with the Prime Minister and the High Commissioner’s office, on the various polices and initiatives of the government, for bilateral trade,” he said.

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