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India and New Zealand trade relations: The Road ahead

Praneeta Mahajan

Praneeta Mahajan

Hamilton, 22 November 2022

Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nanaia Mahuta addresses the Conference (photo supplied)

Identifying opportunities in varied fields of services, education, Agriculture, Technology and merchandise trade to build strong business partnerships was the central theme that emerged in this year’s India New Zealand Business Council (INZBC) summit held on 11 November 2022 at Stamford Plaza in Auckland.

The Summit included the presence of Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nanaia Mahuta, Indian High Commissioner to New Zealand Ms Neeta Bhushan besides a line-up of business leaders, diplomats, sector experts and academics from New Zealand and India, to discuss the various issues of reimagining overall bilateral ties with a focus on increasing trade through building business partnerships between India and New Zealand.

In her keynote address, Hon Nanaia Mahuta, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Local Government and Associate Minister for Māori Development said, “India is a priority relationship for New Zealand, with opportunities in the energy sector, technology and trade.”

The Indian High Commissioner to New Zealand, Neeta Bhushan, highlighted the importance of high-level ministerial visits in strengthening the relationships in light of Indian External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar’s visit to New Zealand. She reminded the audience that India is now the fifth largest economy and its growth rate makes it the fastest-growing economy for the next few years to come.

Ms Bhushan encouraged kiwi companies to work closely with India across sectors, “we need to work towards mutually beneficial partnerships and collaborations in various sectors. Apart from agriculture and forestry trade, we can look at deepening collaborations in Agri-tech, Fin-tech, Education and renewable energy sectors. She also highlighted that India has a large untapped youth population.”

During her time in New Zealand, High Commissioner will focus on five key areas: developing and strengthening connectivity (people to people but more importantly by air), Tourism, Telecom and Digitisation, Research & development, education and finally, traditional medicine.

Indian High Commissioner to New Zealand, Neeta Bhushan sharing her vision for India and NZ moving forward (photo supplied)

The INZBC Chair, Earl Rattray welcomed the strong participation of around 200 in-person attendees and set the tone of the Summit by putting a spotlight on the road ahead for India and New Zealand’s trade relationship. He acknowledged that a different approach to the traditional Free Trade Agreements which have served us well in many markets will be needed for India.

He referred to the recent delegation visit to India, which included representatives from the big exporters right across the spectrum, to independent specialist consultancies, who were treated to a prime seat view of the new India.

Mr Rattray said, “Certainly, in the three years since the trade delegation last visited India, the world has changed, and India has changed and impressively moved on.

Over the same time, the institutional frameworks on which globalisation and cross-border trade rely have been disturbed. The basic assumptions of peace, geopolitical stability, free movement of people and reliable trade flows are now being questioned, featuring both business and national risk registers.”

He said “The delegation listened carefully to what India was telling us. India’s growth targets will be met largely through domestic production, consumption, and savings. That is exactly what is happening.  The evidence of the courage and competence in getting things done to ignite growth in India is there for all to see, not least in infrastructure, Banking, Financial and health sectors.”

“While India will not be isolated from the world, it is clear it intends to not be dependent on the world. India has its development priorities, and reciprocal market access in the form of a conventional FTAs with New Zealand, is not currently one of them, at least not in the near term”, he said.

Sharing similar views, David Blakey, Regional General Manager of BNZ, highlighted the importance of the Indian community in general and the business community in particular for their huge contribution to the NZ economy. He said, “the role of INZBC is crucial in taking the business and economic contribution to its next level and the recent high-level delegation was an important step in this direction. It is important to remember that we are moving into a new phase where relationship-driven economic relations will play an important role. It is also vital for both countries to continue to develop the areas of cooperation with new and innovative approaches.”

The first-panel discussion focused on opportunities for New Zealand business in India and the learnings of New Zealand business delegates’ visits to India. The panellists shared their views on opportunities for various sectors including banking, merchandise trade, diaspora and more, most of which echoed similar themes and insights as highlighted by the ministers and the commissioners.

Simon Tucker from Fonterra said, “India is one of the largest consumers of dairy products and despite its production, in the next 20 to 30 years may not be able to meet its demand. Thus, as a country and as a dairy industry, it may be staring at a large deficit to fill. Meanwhile, it presents NZ with some great and innovative opportunities”.

Geoff Allot from Quality NZ and Michael Fox from Zespri International reiterated the importance of investments in-market, to build the bases and grow from them. They shared their respective experiences in this area.

Panel discussion on what makes New Zealand attractive to India (photo supplied)

The conversation by panellists in the second session turned to the question Why New Zealand and What makes New Zealand attractive to India?” contributing to the discussion on supporting trade dialogue. The panel discussion outlined opportunities in education, diaspora and increasing trade. The spotlight was on how the services sector is an integral part of bilateral trade but does not get that much attention in trade negotiations and policies.

Some of the sentiments expressed were that career education leads to pathways and will become a natural expectation from the education provider by students. The need for transferable skills cannot be understated or underestimated and a heightened need to focus on being a ‘partner’, not a ‘poacher’.

Overall, the summit laid out some of the important steps for business leaders, experts and diaspora to take the bilateral relations to next level and in some sense “reimagine India-New Zealand ties”.

The closing remarks by Dr Pushpa Bhardwaj-Wood, Wellington Chapter Head, INZBC, put the mood in the room aptly, as she said, “The message for New Zealand’s businesses who recently visited India, delivered through multiple signals, sums into just a few words- what works in India, for India, will also work for New Zealand.”

Praneeta Mahajan is an Indian Newslink correspondent based in Hamilton.

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