Indo-Kiwi relationship hinges on political dialogue, not free trade

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Business-to-Business engagement offers greater potential

Some of the speakers at the INZBC Summit 2021 (NZBC Picture)


Venkat Raman
Auckland, June 24, 2021

The fact that India-New Zealand relationship can scale new heights through political dialogue rather than the Free Trade Agreement rhetoric was reinstated at a Business Summit in Auckland well-organised by the India New Zealand Business Council (INBC).

The two-day onshore and offshore (Physical and Virtual) meeting, held on June 23 and June 24, 2021 under the theme, ‘India-New Zealand: A Decade of the New Normal,’ at Trusts Stadium in Henderson, West Auckland, brought to the screen the intellectual capital of India, with government officials, captains of industry and commerce and think-tanks to discuss the existing and emerging opportunities for New Zealand businesses to engage meaningfully with their counterparts in India.

INZBC Chairman Sameer Handa and his team, with the support of the Indian High Commissioner Muktesh Pardeshi had empanelled speakers who were proficient in Indo-Kiwi relations and ground realities. It was one of the most meaningful programmes that provided an useful insight into the state of the economy of India and the country’s resilient government and people. The Summit also helped to reinstate global confidence in the fastest growing economy in the free world.

Strengthening regional stability

New Zealand’s Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta set the tone for the Summit underscoring the benefits for her country through constructive engagement with India.

The thread was later picked up by India’s Minister of State for External Affairs Vellamvelly Muraleedharan.

Ms Mahuta said that closer political ties between the two countries will contribute towards strengthening the stability of the Indo-Pacific region, more specifically the Pacific Island countries in which the stakes are high.

“By working together, we are better placed to address the complex array of challenges – from the economic and health crises arising out of the pandemic, to climate change, and the myriad of geostrategic challenges across the Indo-Pacific,” she said.

India’s Minister of State for External Affairs speaking at the Summit (INZBC Picture)

Enhanced maritime cooperation

Ms Mahuta believes that strengthening the ‘ASEAN-centred architecture’ will help in upholding regional norms and rules. She called for a higher level of maritime cooperation, which will find favour in New Delhi, which has been seeking a presence in the waters of this region for some time now.

“There is strength in unity and defeat in division,” she said, signalling her desire to discuss related matters with her Indian counterpart Dr S Jaishankar Subrahmanyam during their person-to-person meeting, which is likely to be held in New Zealand later this year or in 2022.

Ms Mahuta paid tributes to former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, who in his capacity as the Finance Minister (1991-1996), unleashed the Indian economy from the shackles of socialist governance and ushered in free market reforms.

India’s power and dynamism

“Since then we have seen India’s power and dynamism rise worldwide in a huge array of inventions and innovations used in daily lives. We welcome the significant and increasing contribution to the New Zealand economy from Indian companies, particularly in biotech and services and many other sectors,” she said.

Two-way trade between New Zealand and India languishes at a paltry $2.5 billion, with balance of payment tilted in favour of the former and there has been no significant improvement over the past three governments of respectively Dr Manmohan Singh and Narendra Modi and Helen Clark, John Key-Bill English and Jacinda Ardern.

Ms Mahuta admitted the significant potential that exist in areas away from trade.

“India’s growth story provides new opportunities for investment in infrastructure including roads, ports, power sector, renewable energy, and film production. Agriculture, dairy, forestry remain priorities on both sides. Ties in emerging areas such as digital technology and civilian space cooperation can be explored. We are committed to address market access issues,” she said but stopped short of explaining how.

Impressive FDI growth

Deepak Bagla, Managing Director and Chief Executive of Invest India (a government agency) extensively dealt with the investment opportunities in his country and provided the latest figures relating to Foreign Direct Investment (FDI).

“Last year, despite the restrictions posed by Covid-19, Indian received US$64 billion in FDI, making India the fifth largest recipient in the world,” he said, quoting a recent UN Report.

“India attracted a total FDI inflow of US$6.24 billion in April 2021, accounting for a rise of 38% compared to US$4.53 billion recorded over the corresponding month in 2020,” he said.

A section of the delegates to the INZBC Summit 2021 (INZBC Picture)

High human capital

Mr Muraleedharan explained the benefits of closer cooperation between the two countries against a backdrop of an ‘immense talent pool.’

“India is not just a large market, but a diverse market and stronger economic interactions through technology tie-ups and collaborations would be more relevant in the future. India’s vibrant start-up ecosystem provides opportunities for collaborations that can help us define and adjust to the “new normal,” he said.

Like in many other countries, the pandemic has impacted economic growth in India as well. We have taken a series of decisive economic measures. The Prime Minister announced transformational reforms and enablers through the Self Reliant India initiatives for building strong capabilities through structural reforms.

Describing international students from India as ‘an asset to future of relationship with New Zealand,’ Mr Muraleedharan said that student numbers have decreased in recent years.

“Giving Indian students the opportunity to work after study, would encourage them to choose New Zealand as a destination for higher studies. The current travel restrictions have affected many students, professionals and their family members who are in India. We look forward to working with New Zealand authorities for facilitating their return,” he said.

The Indo-Pacific equation

Mr Muraleedharan said that India and New Zealand have worked closely with other like-minded countries in the Indo-Pacific region by exchanging information and best practices to keep regional supply chains open during the pandemic.

“Businesses from both sides can complement this effort by seeking long-term partnerships for diverse and resilient supply chains. A good beginning in this regard has been made with some of the leading New Zealand companies establishing business in India,” he said.

This view will have the endorsement of Ms Mahuta.

She said, “India, therefore, will continue to grow in importance as a partner for Aotearoa New Zealand in our shared region. Cooperation and partnership will be at the forefront of our approach as we seek to address today’s complex set of challenges and emerge as a peaceful Indo-Pacific.”

More stories on the INZBC Summit will follow. Pictures supplied by INZBC. The above story has been sponsored by

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