India's trade relationship with New Zealand is strong and getting stronger , despite the absence of an elusive free trade deal. But while the relationship thrives, there's debate in some quarters over whether this country has sufficient consulate support in India for business people. Graeme Acton reports.
Business leaders are urging the New Zealand government to increase the numbers of trade officials on the ground in India, if this country is to intensify bilateral trade between the two nations.
The comments came during an online webinar hosted by the Asia New Zealand Foundation this week, designed to broaden discussion over the operation of both Indian and Chinese business ecosystems in Auckland.
Aucklanders of Chinese or Indian ethnicity now make up some 20 percent of the city’s population, with many businesses maintaining strong links back to both India and China.
The panel discussion was moderated by Felicity Roxburgh, Director Business at Asia New Zealand Foundation, who made the point that a deeper understanding of just how Indian and Chinese business operates in the country’s largest city would be a major advantage in New Zealand’s COVID-19 commercial recovery.
Sameer Handa, Chair of India New Zealand Business Council told the webinar that this country needed to look closely at the number of trade officials currently working in the subcontinent.
“We need to see the New Zealand government increase its presence on the ground in India if it’s serious on its goal of increasing its bilateral trade between the two countries,” Handa said.
New Zealand has just one trade commissioner in the Consulate office in Mumbai, and some believe that's just not enough given the significance and value of the trade relationship between the two countries.
India is now New Zealand's largest market in South Asia, and our thirteenth-largest global market, with trade approaching $NZ3 billion a year.
Sameer Handa suggests putting more New Zealanders into trade-related positions in India can only help grow the relationship, for the benefit of both countries.
“This is hugely different from our Trans-Tasman partner Australia which has multiple trade commissioners in multiple cities across India."
The “boots on the ground” theme was echoed by Brett O’Reilly, Chief Executive of the Employers and Manufacturers Association.
“I don’t think its any coincidence that our trade relationship with China has grown as we have put more people on the ground in more than one place,” he said.
“My experience in international business is that “fly-in, fly-out” doesn’t really work, you need to have people on the ground.”
“We’ve got natural relationships with some Indian states like Gujarat, Kerala and Maharashtra, and I’d like to see us go a bit deeper with those relationships, as we’ve done in China."
Also attending the webinar was Caroline Billkey, Auckland director for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
She said MFAT stood ready to assist the business community in a post-COVID recovery, and emphasised the vital role international trade will play.
“We’d be interested in feedback on how we operate offshore .. and [the question] do we need more boots on the ground in some parts of the world in this new post-COVID environment in which we find ourselves.” she said.
Billkey emphasised New Zealand’s strong relationship and long history with India, with the diaspora here able to assist in strengthening and diversifying ties.
“With India we share political and legal systems, we have common interests in the Indo-Pacific region, and there’s been regular political engagement with our two Prime Ministers meeting last year, and earlier this year we had a trade mission to India including David Parker and Winston Peters.”
And while the issue of the number of NZ trade officials in India may need addressing, O’Reilly agrees the Indian diaspora in New Zealand has a role to play.
“The great thing with those states I’ve mentioned is you don’t have to leave Auckland to do that, because the people who can lead us into those states live and work alongside us.”
Earlier this year the Asia New Zealand Foundation released its report – “India and New Zealand: Our story, our future” – from former New Zealand High Commissioner Graeme Waters, highlighting the breadth and depth of the India-New Zealand relationship beyond the usual headlines.
Waters identifies some of the ways the two countries should continue to work together – for instance, in areas such as agribusiness, tourism, higher education and fashion.
Plugging into the networks and opportunities offered by the Indian business community in our largest city would appear to be an effective way of furthering the fortunes of both nations.
- Asia Media Centre