Feature Interview: H.E. Neeta Bhushan
High Commissioner of India to New Zealand, H.E. Neeta Bhushan says the initial groundwork is done, and now India and New Zealand need to build on its relationship. She spoke to INZBC about the impact of the INZBC India report and how New Zealand needs its own approach on growing its relationship with India.
You’ve read the recent report that INZBC has released on the Indian New Zealand relationship and the next steps we need to take. What are your initial thoughts? What is your feedback on it?
Thank you, it’s a pleasure to be interviewed for the Kia Ora India magazine, highly regarded among the business, political, and various other communities engaged in the India New Zealand relationship.
Regarding the INZBC report, it was impressive. I believe a lot of research and hard work went into it, and I congratulate the team for diligently highlighting all facets of the partnership, providing insight into the relationship’s progress and what more needs to be done.
The report successfully captured ongoing trends such as enhanced diplomatic engagement, visits by business delegations, and our strong links in sports, culture, and people to people ties. These form a natural foundation for our enhanced business partnership.
Your report also emphasized that a comprehensive approach, including both government and private sector is necessary for further strengthening our relations. That is a key issue at the moment.
You’ve achieved a lot in eight or nine months. What has been your experience? How was your initial period in New Zealand?
The experience has been fantastic, with lots of learning and a flurry of activities.
First, we had the visit of Dr S Jaishankar, External Affairs Minister in October 2022. This was followed by visit of FM Mahuta to India in February this year.
In addition, a large number of official and business delegations have visited New Zealand and India respectively. Minister O’Connor will lead a business delegation in August. We hope to see very good meetings and interactions during his visit.
In fact, I always say that in the last six months, that is from January to June 2023, we have seen the visit of more than 20 to 25 delegations between our two countries. These include delegations from department of Food safety, agriculture and horticulture, university representatives etc.
Recently a delegation from the National Defence College of India was here. Many industry groups such as Pharmaxecil , Federations of Indian Exporters and AMUL have also visited New Zealand.
One of my biggest learnings has been that there is tremendous interest on both sides to take the relationship to the next phase.
Recently, our two Prime Ministers met in Port Moresby and this is testimony to the commitment at the highest levels for very strong relations between out two countries.
At every level, I see a lot of focus on our relations as well as willingness to engage more. I find this very encouraging.
You’re saying there’s a lot of hectic activity that you have seen in the past few months and which is also obviously very encouraging for our relations, but what is the appetite of kiwi companies to work with India? Do you sense that they are really already warming up to India or still there’s a lot of work to do in that space.
I do see them sort of warming up. There is realization and appreciation of India being the fastest growing large economy together with a large market, huge talent pool and growing middle class. I see our Kiwi friends excited about the opportunities in India.
This is evident during our business events. In our last event on May 31, 2023, participants came from all major cities including Auckland, Christchurch and Dunedin. I was overwhelmed to see the growing interest across sectors. People asked many questions about the best ways to increase trade or do business with India. Many people were amazed to hear about the several successful on- going collaborations in agriculture technology, IT and the meat industries.
There is no doubt that some initial groundwork has been done. Now, we need to build up on this. My main advise to our Kiwi friends is to visit India and see for themselves the potential of enhancing trade and investment in various sectors. I am happy to note that INZBC is taking a business delegation in August this year. I hope that some of them will join this delegation.
What according to you are the challenges that are stopping the Indian New Zealand trade from going to the next level? Apart from challenges, what would be the low hanging fruits you think we can work on within your tenure?
I do see a lot of opportunities on the trade side. And, of course, I do admit that there are some challenges as well.
One main challenge is of distance between our countries. The lack of direct air connectivity poses a difficulty in early transportation of fresh fruits and other food items which have an expiration date. There are also bio-security and phytosanitary requirements in place in both our countries.
Having said that, I must admit that we are working closely with the New Zealand authorities to work through these challenges.
For example, the import of mangoes from India was suspended for a long time due to some phytosanitary requirements on the side of New Zealand. We proactively worked with the Ministry of Primary Industries to sort out this issue. In India, our cold chains have been upgraded to meet the international requirements. MPI officials visited the facilities in India and approved it.
Subsequently the suspension on mangoes was lifted. Since last month, you can see Indian mangoes in supermarkets here.
There are many synergies between our two countries and I would like to focus on them.
Taking your examples of what worked with mangoes, do you think the right approach is to work on an issue in one particular area and rectify it? Do you think we can do a lot more in that area?
Yes, I think so. We need to work on the low hanging fruits. I am sure we can work on each issue together with government authorities and businesses to find a satisfactory solution.
On a similar note, there has been a lot of distress in the logging sector. Are you working on that as well?
Yes, I am aware of that. Some people approached me and requested me to take up these issues with GOI. I have requested them to give a paper as I am not aware of the technical issues of the case. I have also advised them to join the INZBC delegation to India. This way the Log exporters would be able to get a first-hand impression about what needs to be done for promoting exports to India.
According to your study and in your impression, what would be the top five key policies of the government of India, which you think can really attract the key investors to go and start working in India?
There are several policies. The first one is of course “make in India” which attracts many investors. I think the example of Quality NZ must be mentioned. To cater to the Indian market, they have started a meat processing plant in Chandigarh. They are a major supplier of lamb to hotels in India. The plant uses Indian skills and adds value to their product.
The second one I would say is the “Digital India” which supports the FinTech sector. Rekon, a Kiwi company has recently launched their center in Bengaluru. We have seen how Valocity has done so well in India.
A very important point is the changes in FDI policy which has paved the way for investors to access many sectors including defense and aviation, while also simplifying the clearance process. Startup India and Skill India are also providing many opportunities.
Does the government of India provide any incentives for these investments?
India has consistently improved its rankings in the ease of doing business. It is now really easy to do business with India. Invest India provides a lot of support and hand holding to anybody who wants to invest in India. Many states have a single window clearance process.
And lastly, any message for our readers?
I just want to mention that we need to work together to realize the full potential of our partnership. I also want to mention to all that please stay connected with us through our Facebook, Twitter and other social media channels. Come and join us, speak at our events, participate and that is how we learn and we can take their ideas and suggestions back.
See article in KiaOra India Magazine: https://issuu.com/inzbc/docs/kiaora_india_jun2023_v5_low/10