India moots Mobility Partnership with New Zealand

India’s External Affairs Minister Dr Subrahmanyam Jaishankar with his wife Kyoko, High Commissioner Neetu Bhushan. High Commission officials and their spouses at the official opening ceremony held on October 9, 2022 (Photo Supplied)

Venkat Raman in Wellington, October 9, 2022

Future relations between India and New Zealand will depend on the ability of the two countries to establish a Mobility Partnership, apart from cooperation in the Digital Economy, Business relationship and a better understanding of the aspirations of the student population, a senior Minister of the Indian government has said.

External Affairs Minister Dr Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said that India was ready for the ‘next stage of relationship with New Zealand’ and called on the Jacinda Ardern government to join hands with his country and promote mutually beneficial policies.

Inaugurating the new complex of the Indian High Commission at 72 Pipitea Street close to the New Zealand Parliament in Wellington today, he said that the future ties depend on business relationship and that his country was ready for that stage.

Free movement of people

“Mobility Partnership is the most important way of promoting business and is the foundation of our relationship in the next stage. We are ready to move forward and I have discussed the issue during my meeting with Foreign Minister (Nanaia Mahuta),” he said.

India’s External Affairs Minister Dr Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and High Commissioner Neetu Bhushan entering the new Mission Complex on October 9, 2022 (Photo Supplied)

By implication, Mobility Partnership entails the free movement of people between New Zealand and India, which in effect eases entry procedures, enabling citizens of India to obtain visas on arrival at any port in New Zealand and a similar facility for New Zealanders visiting India.

Dr Jaishankar believes this is the first step in launching a meaningful and purpose-oriented business relationship with India.

He had raised the issue with the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken during his visit to Washington on September 27, 2022.

“India is open to business but its success would depend on the strength of our partnership. Our ‘Digital India’ programme opens many possibilities for cooperation. There is a need for mobility of talent so that we can promote globalised talent and become a truly global society,” he said.

Dr Jaishankar outlined his country’s ambitious House Ownership Programme which will assure every citizen the right and ability to own a house, revival of India’s traditional health system which is gaining world recognition and the challenges posed by cyber security.

Global Centre for Traditional Medicine

The World Health Organisation has set up the first and only Global Centre to Traditional Medicine in India, he said.

The Centre, the construction of which is underway in Jamnagar, Gujarat, recognises India’s contribution and potential in the field of traditional medicine.

Speaking at the ground-breaking ceremony held on April 19, 2022, Prime Minister Narendra Modi described India’s traditional medicinal system as “a holistic science of life”

“India takes this partnership as a huge responsibility for serving the entire humanity,” he said.

Dr Jaishankar said that India has refreshed its relationship with New Zealand.

India’s External Affairs Minister Dr Subrahmanyam Jaishankar planting a tree at the new High Commission Complex in Wellington on October 9, 2022 (Photo Supplied)

“We see possibilities of cooperation in food processing and agribusiness. India is coming out of its subsistence on agriculture. We believe in deep commitment, strong relationship and policies and programmes fit for the purpose. We should now take the lead and work to achieve our objectives,” he said.

The Indo-Pacific Equation

His reference to the Indo-Pacific equation was reminiscent of his meeting with Mr Blinken.

“India-US cooperation is today visible across the length and breadth of the Indo-Pacific and perhaps even beyond. It has many facets and expresses itself in different ways. We particularly value closer coordination in the Indian Subcontinent, where we perceive that our convergences are very strong. It is essential that democracy, pluralism, progress, development and prosperity are nurtured. Conversely, we must counter radicalisation, extremism and fundamentalism. India is widening its international footprint and there are many more regions where we will be intersecting with American interests. It is to our mutual benefit that this is a complementary process,” he said.

Student Visa delay assailed

Dr Jaishankar repeated his earlier call to the New Zealand government on student visas, with a veiled attack on the country’s immigration policy and the inordinate delays in issuing visas.

“Students coming to New Zealand for higher education look for lifetime possibilities. There is a need for a better understanding of their aspirations and their contributions. We hope to see progress in this area. There is a larger world out there,” he said.

He said that New Zealand and India should be effective partners in education and hoped that the concept of Mobility Partnership extends to the education sector.

India’s External Affairs Minister Dr Subrahmanyam Jaishankar speaking at the inaugural ceremony of the Indian High Commission Complex on October 9, 2022 (Photo Supplied)

Although he did not say it,  Dr Jaishankar’s six-day visit to New Zealand, his first by an Indian Foreign Minister in more than 20 years, did not register any tangible progress; instead, it saw the removal of a Free Trade Agreement with India removed from New Zealand’s list of priorities, effectively sealing the fate of the pact.

Apart from one meeting with Ms Mahuta and one ‘casual’ meeting with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on the sidelines of a private function limited to invited guests in Auckland, there were no significant bilateral meetings between the visiting and hosting officials.

Dr Jaishankar has been highly critical of New Zealand’s hard stand on stranded migrants in India since the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2020 and the resultant closure of borders. India has reportedly spent more than $90 million in the construction of its new Chancery in Wellington, an investment which should produce results.

Free Trade Agreement abandoned

Although he sounded positive during his references to the meetings held between Mr Modi and Ms Ardern on the sidelines of the recently held UN General Assembly and other summits, there is little evidence to show that the two countries are getting closer.

In her reply to a question whether ‘Australia’s Free Trade Agreement with India would motivate New Zealand to follow suit, Ms Mahuta said, “We are not in competition with Australia.”

Any hope of a détente would remain a remote possibility given such a comment.

Nonetheless, New Delhi will pursue its efforts to promote a better relationship with New Zealand.

“As Dr Jaishankar remarked towards the end of his address: “This has been a learning trip for me. We should strive to make the best of the situation. After all, when we talk about New Zealand, we cannot ignore Cricket,” he said and added that India’s tour of New Zealand, beginning on November 18, 2022, will be watched with excitement.

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