Auckland, October 6, 2022
New Zealand and India formally announced today an end to their talks on a Free Trade Agreement, concentrating instead on ‘business relationship.’
Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta told a Press Conference at the Hilton Hotel in Auckland this afternoon that ‘A Free Trade Agreement with India was not among the priorities of her government.’
She was accompanied by India’s External Affairs Minister Dr Subrahmanyam Jaishankar who is currently on an official visit to New Zealand.
Following an hour-long bilateral meeting held at the Auckland Museum, preceded by a Powhiri earlier, Ms Mahuta said that there were other ways of strengthening relations with India.
The shift of emphasis to Business Relationship
“Our emphasis has shifted from a formal FTA to business relationship, where there is enormous potential. We are seeking opportunities for engagement in specific industries that will benefit both countries. We will continue to work with India and use the existing and emerging opportunities,” she said.
Describing New Zealand’s relationship with India as ‘complicated and historic,’ Ms Mahuta said that Dr Jaishankar’s visit to New Zealand marked the first by an Indian Foreign Minister in 21 years (the previous visit was that of Jaswant Singh in 2001) and propitiously coincided with the marking of 70 years of diplomatic ties.
She said that the reopening of borders has provided a timely opportunity to re-engage with India and that Mr Jaishankar’s visit follows two previous meetings that she had with him in the past and the September 2022 visit of Trade Growth Minister Damien O’Connor to New Delhi.
“People form a significant part of our diplomatic relations and our two countries have built our relationship on common grounds of democratic, Commonwealth and other values. In recent years, we have come together to jointly address global issues and challenges such as Climate Change and the Covid pandemic. We see greater cooperation with India in areas such as the digital economy and green business. We recognise that there are niche areas in which we can derive mutual benefit,” she said.
Ms Mahuta said that she discussed opportunities for expanding the relationship and cooperating in new areas, such as climate change and sustainable agriculture.
“We aspire to develop opportunities in the economic, cultural, technology and services sectors, and to strengthen people-to-people links. We are changing immigration settings to attract high-skilled migrants with a clear pathway to residency for globally hard-to-fill roles. We anticipate there could be opportunities for high-skilled migrants from India through the green list, such as dairy farm managers and ICT roles,” she said.
Ms Mahuta said that New Zealand’s progress towards joining the International Solar Alliance, which India and France established in 2015 as an example of new areas of cooperation.
The Alliance promotes solar energy through research, development and innovation and mobilises investment for affordable solar energy around the world, including the Pacific.
“We also discussed India’s interest in joining the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases, which promotes international cooperation and research to find ways to grow more food without growing greenhouse gas emissions,” she said.
Immigration, students and more
Dr Jaishankar was more specific in his comments about the bilateral talks.
“We raised the issue of our people stranded in India for more than two years because of the closure of New Zealand’s borders. Many of our students, who were in India on holiday were not allowed to return to this country to continue their studies. We have asked the New Zealand government to give our people fair and equitable treatment. We can meet the skills shortage of New Zealand if there is greater mobility of people and better understanding,” he said.
In her reply, Ms Mahuta said that New Zealand has recently changed its immigration settings and provided a pathway for migrant workers to become residents.
The Immigration Minister is working to restore the migrant policy to the Pre-Covid levels, including welcoming back international students, she said.
Dr Jaishankar said that India sees the larger picture of the South Pacific and Indo-Pacific regions including the current state of security and other challenges but stopped short of mentioning the growing influence of the People’s Republic of China in the Pacific Island countries.
“We also spoke of air connectivity (meaning direct flights between New Zealand and India) and a better understanding of each other’s position to improve friendship,” he said.
Later, he tweeted saying that he had “warm and productive talks with Ms Mahuta. Two societies, respectful of tradition and culture, are seeking to forge a more contemporary relationship. I appreciate the exchange of views on issues of international concerns such as the Indo-Pacific and the Ukraine conflict. I value our working together in multilateral forums including the Un and the Commonwealth,” he said.
Security in the Indo-Pacific region
A Press Trust of India report said that India, the US and several other world powers have been talking about the need to ensure a free, open and thriving Indo-Pacific in the backdrop of China’s rising military manoeuvring in the resource high region.
“China claims nearly all of the disputed South China Sea, though Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam claim parts of it. Beijing has built artificial islands and military installations in the South China Sea. China also has territorial disputes with Ja[an in the East China Sea.
“India has repeatedly emphasised the immediate cessation of hostilities in Ukraine and the need to resolve the ongoing conflict through dialogue and diplomacy,” PTI said.
Dr Jaishankar also met Associated Foreign Minister Aupito William Sio during the bilateral discussions.