Political roadblocks impede closer economic cooperation

Venkat Raman

This article may be seen as an anachronism and as a thorn in the flesh of bilateral relations and as antithetical by some self-styled community and business leaders but an honest analysis of the Indo-Kiwi relationship- or the dormancy of it – is always intended to raise issues, in the solution of which, there could be a more beneficial engagement.

It is customary to praise the time-honoured relationship between the countries – no one has ever questioned that – and raise glasses in celebration of that relationship – no one minds that – but adulation, both assumed and accorded- can remain just that; the forward movement takes a lot more impetus.

Salutations First

Let us at the first instance, acknowledge the success of India as a democracy, evidenced by the 72nd Independence Day or the 71st Anniversary being marked all over the world today (August 15, 2018). For a country that has faced challenges, conflicts and controversies – both internal and external – and for a country that cannot allow its top echelons of power to move freely as commoners in view of international threats to their persons – freedom of thought, expression and action remains paramount.

Impressive growth

On the economic front, India is surging ahead with enviable rates of growth, massive infrastructure development, high levels of investment flow from various parts of the world and the establishment of almost all multinational firms. The country’s young population, accounting for more than 500 million is a massive human resource asset to almost every country in the world.

These factors are behind India’s emergence as the World’s economic powerhouse.

Relations with New Zealand

For all the rhetoric uttered by political leaders, economists and businesspersons, India’s relations with New Zealand has remained at a mundane level – almost static over the past ten years or so; there have been high-level ministerial visits from either side to either country but none of these has produced any tangible results.

The much talked about Free Trade Agreement (FTA) remains on the backburner, with its flame kept alive with just hope.

The annual two-way trade between the two countries remains low at NZ$ 2.5 billion (of which $1.7 billion are exports to India), compared to China, trade with which, now at NZ$ 26.1 billion is expected to move up to $30 billion in the next two years.

India has continuously expressed its aversion to discuss exemption of tariffs on agricultural, farming and dairy products from New Zealand, as these would adversely affect its own agricultural sectors. Instead, Delhi has offered a FTA in its Services Sector, which has not found much favour with the New Zealand government.

Political fallout

Politics has not been helpful in strengthening relationship between the two countries.

While the Indian Government has neither forgotten nor forgiven New Zealand’s non-endorsement of India’ bid to the Permanent Membership of the UN Security Council and on the issue of Nuclear Supply Group (NSG), the New Zealand leadership is still bitter about New Delhi’s reluctance in supporting the candidature of Helen Clark to the post of Secretary General.

Some of us who travelled with (the then Prime Minister) John Key to India in 2011 and 2016 were aware of the rumblings in Delhi’s South Block (where much power is brokered and broken), to the effect that New Zealand was not willing to travel an extra mile to support India – as a true friend should.

Mr Key did not explicitly support India’s application to join the NSG, but only committed to “contribute constructively” to the “process” to reach a decision by an early date. Mr Key’s visit took place as India revved up its campaign for its second attempt to join the NSG last year.

New Zealand was part of the small group of countries at the NSG plenary meeting in Seoul which raised questions about the process of admitting India. The countries in question were also in favour of drafting criteria which would not be India-specific.

Another rebuff

Another shot was fired by Amitabh Kant, Chief Executive of the National Institution for Transforming India (NITI), an ambitious autonomous organisation established by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to lead the charge of making the world’s largest democracy during his visit to New Zealand three months ago.

“Advanced countries of the world continue to underestimate India’s capacity to stand on its own on economic and fiscal matters, and continue to baffle with their double standards on international trade and investment,” he told Indian Newslink during an interview in Auckland on May 4, 2017.

Globalisation has been used by ‘these countries’ for their selfish interests, he had said.

Globalisation dressing

“The approach is underscored by hypocrisy. On the one hand, they speak of globalisation which implies free movement of trade, services, investment and people, while on the other, they apply protectionist measures when it comes to bilateral trade. Such double standards are not in India’s interests.

He stopped short of naming New Zealand, but the implication was evident.

“New Zealand can benefit by participating in India’s Services Sector, which has been fully liberalised. We would welcome New Zealand to be our partner in modernising and expanding our infrastructure, education, health and other areas. There are no restrictions on Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). We have the presence and participation of almost all major multinationals in India. The New Zealand government and Kiwi companies should realise that India is the place to be in the next three years,” he said.

Positive approach

None of the above should however distract us from pursuing constructive engagement with India. This article is at best a pointer on the enormity of problems that confront Indo-Kiwi relationship and the poverty of our contributions in solving them. The one should instil in us a feeling of humility and the other the spirit of solidarity to achieve the desired results. The two countries have much in common which can be harnessed for a brighter future for the peoples of both countries.

Photo Caption:

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern with her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi in Manila on November 12, 2017. The two leaders were in the Philippines Capital to attend the 31st Summit of ASEAN. (Twitter Picture)


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