The world should respect and emulate India’s versatility

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Venkat Raman

Venkat Raman

Auckland, June 28, 2021

                                    Minister of State for Trade and Export Growth Phil Twyford speaking at the INZBC Summit 

                                      on June 24, 2021 (INZBC Picture from Facebook)

India is a leader on several fronts and the world should learn to respect and emulate its versatility for universal progress, a Minister of the Crown has said.

Minister of State for Trade and Export Growth Phil Twyford described India as a ‘country that has so much going on in areas like technology, entertainment, sport, politics and business.’

“All of these and more as the world’s largest democracy and New Zealand’s relationship reflects all these factors and more,” he said, speaking at the Annual Summit of the India New Zealand Business Council (INZBC) on June 24, 2021.

Ties beyond and away from Trade

Taking a cue from the previous day’s speech of Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta, Mr Twyford downplayed the elusive Free Trade Agreement (FTA) but fostering ties on other areas.

Bilateral relationships are much more than the flow of goods across borders, he said, but admitted that trade is an enabler and free moment of goods, services and investment has brought nations and people closer together for generations.

But this is only one part of the picture, Mr Twyford said, reinforcing the need for innovative and closer engagement with India.

“If bilateral relationship is a platform, ours rests on several foundations: a strong political relationship borne out of shared interests; strong people-to-people ties underpinned by education and migration; and our businesses investing and exporting between our two countries,” he said.

Mr Twyford said that some of New Zealand’s most prominent businesspeople, entertainers, artistes, politicians, and other eminent figures can claim Indian heritage.

“We are travelling in more Indian-produced cars, buses, trucks, and motorbikes. And with e-Commerce and App development, particularly vibrant parts of India’s economy, it is increasingly Indian-developed Apps that New Zealanders are turning to on their smartphones, like Ola or Zomato,” he said.

India’s High Commissioner Muktesh Pardeshi with (from left) Bhav Dhillon, 
Sameer Handa and Gaurav (Garry) Gupta (INZBC Picture from Facebook)

Role in Indo-Pacific region

India’s desire to play a larger role in the Indo-Pacific region has been quantified by important players like Australia and New Zealand, again a tune and tone set by Ms Mahuta.

Mr Twyford said that strengthening ties makes sense even before examining the increasing role India that plays in the Indo-Pacific, a region gaining greater strategic significance.

“New Zealand recognises the positive role that India can play in ensuring that Indo-Pacific nations continue to embrace a cooperative, rules-based approach in the international sphere – something which serves all of us well,” he said.

India has a Defence Agreement with New Zealand and a greater understanding of geopolitical issues with Australia, and these, with its increasing influence (orchestrated by ministerial discussions and financial aid) among the countries of the Pacific Islands Forum, will help New Delhi to close ranks.

But bilateral relations are not based on trade or exports alone, a point not lost on Mr Twyford.

“It is true that businesses must be looking for new markets to diversify. And yes, the government plays a critical role in enabling businesses to achieve that through FTAs. But that is not,  and cannot, be the only string to our bow when it comes to New Zealand’s bilateral relationship with the second most populous country in the world – a country in our own Indo-Pacific neighbourhood, and a country to whom a significant diaspora in New Zealand have deep family, social and economic ties,” he said.

Two areas that he mentioned are likely to remain an anathema – diary and technology; but two other areas spell immense possibilities – public health and export education – the former acknowledged by him and say, “through a concerted, strategic effort to elevate our ties with India, we could see our relationship truly flourish.”

According to him, countries that are most effective in cooperating with others recognise that relationships must be broad as well as deep, reflecting the increasingly borderless world in terms of the entertainment that we enjoy, the food we eat, the technology we rely on, and the people with whom we interact.

“In a similar vein, India’s much-discussed rise is not just something that occurs in a narrow, abstract, economic sense, but instead is manifesting itself in a wide range of ways, and so, should be bilateral relationship. Our trade links stand to benefit if we take this broad approach, and vice versa,” Mr Twyford said.

The INZBC Summit and Mr Twyford’s speech were just hours after New Zealand’s stunning victory over India at the World Cup Cricket, which were reflected, albeit implied.

He said, “Sport also demonstrates the rapidly changing nature of both India itself and the relationship between our two countries. While Hockey and Cricket (did I mention Cricket?)- have dominated our perceptions of Indian sport, we now also see a number of New Zealanders and New Zealand-based football players making the switch to the Indian Super League, which while only founded in 2014 has managed already to attract some of the biggest names in football, not the least of whom is the Wellington Phoenix’s record goal-scorer, Roy Krishna who now has Fiji and New Zealand claiming him as their own,” he said.

India’s High Commissioner Muktesh Pardeshi with some of the participants at the 

INZBC Summit 2021 (INZBC Picture from Facebook)

Covid-19 management tribute
Paying tributes to India on its well-measured response to the recent onslaught of the second wave of Covid-19 that challenged the government and the economy, he said that India is at the frontline of the world’s response to the pandemic and its key role in the global vaccination effort is a testament to its generosity and expertise.“Covid-19 has placed an immense strain on us all, and we have felt that pressure in many ways. While it is first and foremost a health crisis, it has put unprecedented pressure on the way nations engage with each other, in what was already a tough environment for multilateralism. New Zealand’s response to this is to redouble our efforts to improve links with other nations – and our relationship with India should be no exception to this approach.

We have a warm and longstanding connection with India, and the point I want to make today is that framing it solely in an economic context does a great injustice to its breadth,” he said.

The final word

The two-day Summit was one of the best organised in New Zealand in recent years. The success of the event, which witnessed brilliant speeches by experts in India will depend on how well the deliberations are translated into action but one factor was imminent: that New Zealand must diversify its international exposure away from China and that an opportunity exists in India. Even as Wellington pursues stronger ties across Europe and the Atlantic, it should also consider the untapped potential in India.

The Sub-Continent could be an enigma but its economic strength should not be overlooked.
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