New Zealand appears to have struck the right chord with India and if the statements coming from the Indian capital are any indication, there could be fresh hopes for closer ties.
Foreign Minister Winston Peters and Trade and Export Growth Minister David Parker have just concluded a four-day visit (from February 25 to 28, 2020) to India, which included engagements in the New Delhi and in Mumbai.
A highlight of their visit was a meeting with India’s External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar in New Delhi on February 26, 2020.
Indo-Pacific Ocean Initiative
Mr Peters said that he expressed New Zealand’s support for India’s leadership on the Indo-Pacific Ocean Initiative, which seeks to promote maritime security cooperation; and the International Solar Alliance, an India-led organisation working to strengthen cooperation on solar energy.
Those would be musical for India, especially the Indo-Pacific Ocean Initiative, which was propounded by India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the East Asia Summit held in Bangkok on November 4, 2019. It included a maritime security pillar fostering rules-based international order.
“It should be a space in which freedom of navigation, overflight, sustainable development, protection of ecology, especially the marine environment, and an open, free, fair and mutually beneficial trade and investment system are guaranteed to all,” Mr Modi said at the meeting.
Mr Peters said that he also discussed the security and economic development in the Indo-Pacific region which includes Australia and Fiji.
He said that he had told Mr Jaishankar of New Zealand’s promise of ‘sustained future political engagement from both sides and by advancing initiatives of mutual interest.’
Political ideologies and approaches have been points of difference between the two countries.
New Zealand aspires
Mr Parker said that New Zealand has high aspirations for the relationship, which are set out in the Government’s recently released India strategy.
“We discussed our respective views on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, our broad trade relationship, and the importance of the rules based system,” he said.
As constantly mentioned by us, India is allergic to suggestions that call for zero tariffs or even concessions on agricultural and diary projects.
“We live and die by trade,” Mr Peters told the media in India, indicating the aspiration for a Free Trade Agreement.
The two-ministers were accompanied by an 18-member delegation that included government officials and New Zealand based businesses.
Reports from India New Zealand Business Council President Sameer Handa and New Zealand India Trade Alliance General Secretary Surinder Ogra suggested that the business delegation was satisfied with their visits to their Indian counterparts and discussions that followed.
New doors opening
“This was an opportunity to open new doors, deepen relationships and grow discussion to accelerate the partnership between the two countries. We look forward to building stronger synergies and increased ongoing engagement to make this happen and deliver on this promise, the future is ours to create,” Mr Handa said.
Meetings with Amitabh Kant, Chief Executive of ‘Niti Aayog,’ a policy think tank of the Indian government ((and Sir Edmund Hillary Fellow sponsored by the New Zealand government in 2017) and Ramanathan Ramanan, Director, Atal Innovation Mission, another government enterprise to promote innovation and entrepreneurship were fruitful, according Mr Ogra.
The highlight of the day was a visit to Niti Aayog, where we had a meeting with Amitabh Kant, CEO, Mr R Ramanan, Mission Director AIM (Atal Innovation mission).
“Acknowledging New Zealand’s Number One status in ease of doing business, Mr Kant outlined the structural reforms being carried out in India, citing GST, Insolvency and Bankruptcy Law, Real Estate Laws and Direct Benefit Transfer. Multinationals are setting up their Research and Development Centres in Bengaluru and Hyderabad,” he said.
According to Mr Ramanan, innovation is being encouraged at the school level, aimed at transforming students to problem solvers.
“There are 5000 incubators throughout India. We can partner with New Zealand for innovation as we have done with Sweden, France, Germany and Australia,” he told the delegation.
The innovation drive, we believe, should be directed by the New Zealand government.
Mr Handa said opportunities exist for trade and cooperation in a number of sectors.
“Among them are Wood, Horticulture (Apples and Kiwifruit), Fintech, Aviation and Education. Engagement in each of these sectors entails a sound and pragmatic strategy based on market knowledge and the rules and regulations in India. The government will be keen to promote enterprises that add value to their products and services,” he said.
New Zealand companies and investors often face a paradox.
Mr Handa explained the situation.
Open Market vs Protection
“New Zealand companies must think beyond commodities and consider engagement in services, technology and tech-transfers, focused on solving dilemmas in the Indian market. This is not services instead of products, but rather services in addition to products. We can also see a strong desire for self sufficiency and protectionism. India is still a country that is protecting itself from international competition,” he said.
Indo-Kiwi relations are getting intense, thanks to the increasing number of ministerial and high level visits and the exceptionally professional calibre shown by the diplomats of both countries over the past few years.
But there should be no delusion that it would be an easy path. A free trade pact between New Zealand and India are beset with a series of imponderables, not the least of which would be agriculture. New Zealand must work out a way that would appease New Delhi, without comprising its own needs.
- Winston Peters with Subrahmanyam Jaishankar at Hyderabad House, New Delhi on February 26, 2020 (Dr S Jaishankar Twitter)
- Official talks led by Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and Winston Peters (Dr S Jaishankar Twitter)
- Amitabh Kant and David Parker (seated third and fourth from left) with officials and delegates. Ramanathan Ramanan is standing behind Mr Parker (Picture by NZITA General Secretary Surinder Ogra)