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  • Sandeep Sharma

Strengthening India – New Zealand relations: Is Sir Richard Hadlee the answer?

From cricket, business to business engagement to cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, where does India-NZ’s foreign policy stand after 70 years of diplomatic relations? Sandeep Sharma, Christchurch Chapter Head, INZBC shares an overview of this.

During his recent visit to New Zealand, India’s External Affairs Minister Dr S. Jaishankar, when questioned about India’s better relations with Australia compared to NZ said: “New Zealand’s got Sir Richard Hadlee, what more do you want”? The emphasis here was on the long-standing relationship which NZ already has with India through cricket and sports.

Perhaps the business of cricket benefited the most from India because its pioneers like Sir Richard Hadlee, Stephen Fleming, Daniel Vettori and Brendon McCullum springboarded onto existing relations with India, adapting themselves to the changing landscape of the Indian cricketing industry. The business acumen of NZ’s cricketing heroes is the reason why NZ has access to India’s $5.3 Billion USD, Indian Premier League (IPL). It could be a case study for NZ private businesses.

This year India and New Zealand celebrate 70 years of their diplomatic relations, which were first established in 1952. The celebrations became even more special with the visit of Minister, Dr S. Jaishankar in October 2022.

The Foreign Policies of both countries share a common history in terms of being former colonies of the British, and even gaining complete independence in the same year – 1947. Their respect for democracy, international rule-based order, abiding by the UN Charter, being members of the WTO and similar ethos when it comes to climate change and human rights issues, indicates that both countries find themselves on the same page on most global issues. The people-to-people connection is strong, with over 5 per cent of kiwis identifying as having Indian ethnicity, while more kiwis are beginning to explore India for its spiritual offerings, yogic experiences, and business opportunities.

If one were to skip the part of why this relationship hasn’t flourished in terms of its bilateral trade, or the lack of engagement at a higher level between governments in the past – we are probably looking at the onset of a golden era of India-New Zealand trade relations. India has already debunked the argument of being a difficult nation to trade with by signing FTAs with Australia, the UAE, and an announcement of a potential FTA with the UK soon. However, at the same time, during his recent visit to New Zealand, Minister S. Jaishankar put the FTA debate with NZ to rest, by suggesting a focus on business-to-business engagements. This prompted NZ’s Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta to state that an FTA with India is not a priority right now.

So why is it the onset of a golden era of bilateral trade between the two nations, when NZ doesn’t even have an FTA as its priority with India?

With an FTA in the past, New Zealand now has a defined and focused path to follow when it comes to growing its trade with India. In Minister Jaishankar’s words: “the opportunities to work (with NZ) are now far more realistic and practical.” This is an indicator that while policymakers and governments work at their own pace, businesses should respond to opportunities, aligning with the market forces while finding areas to collaborate. The existing trade between India and NZ stood at merely $2.64 Billion pre-COVID. This can grow significantly, organically, without an FTA. Interestingly, India does not have an FTA with its biggest trading partners like the US, EU, and China; clearly highlighting the fact that to grow bilateral trade with India one doesn’t need a trade deal.

The clear areas of focus identified by India, which NZ can directly benefit from, are individual businesses partnering for better market access, international education that is mutually beneficial, digital economy and climate action. India is significantly developing its market access and onboarding of foreign companies via Invest India and Make in India. It realises the significance of international investment and collaboration, for its growth. In doing so this creates more employment and opportunities for its young population of which 70 per cent are under the age of 35 years. If not provided for, this demographic dividend (while a significant opportunity) can pose challenges to its government.

India is resolved to become a developed country in the next twenty-five years which will mean more global goods for the world. As a developing nation, it is not as well-resourced as New Zealand, which means that Indian private businesses are agile and do not depend on the government to create market access. New Zealand businesses should respond to India with similar pragmatism, working on a business-to-business model and not waiting for stars to align on a policy level between the two nations.

In the likelihood of New Zealand missing out on this golden opportunity to trade with India, it can always paraphrase the response of India’s External Affairs Minister: “NZ’s got Sir Richard Hadlee, what more do we want”?

This article was written by Sandeep Sharma, for the latest issue of the INZBC magazine Kia Ora India. To read the magazine, please click here:


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