Trade delegation brings hopes for India-NZ relations

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Prospects for stronger trade relationships with India have strengthened after a recent India-New Zealand Business Council (INZBC) trade delegation visit there in late August.

The 50 strong delegation included a good representation of Bay of Plenty business interests, keen to better understand the challenges and opportunities the subcontinent offers for both service and product exporters.

The delegation was headed up by Michael Fox, Zespri’s head of global affairs and newly appointed chair of the INZBC.

He said interest in the trip had proven to be high with over 100 businesses registering interest for the 50 places offered on the trip. It reflected a growing recognition among New Zealand commercial interest of the sub-continent’s value as a trading partner.

At present India, despite being the world’s most populous nation, sits at only 15th among New Zealand’s trading partners, superseded by a number of countries significantly smaller in population terms, including Singapore and Korea.

Previous efforts to develop a free trade agreement with India have failed, with the nation unwilling to compromise on opening access to New Zealand dairy products to a market that is the largest dairy producer in the world.

India has 80 million rural households employed in dairying and dairy farmers represent a politically powerful bloc that influenced India’s decision to walk away from an FTA with New Zealand four years ago.

But Fox was optimistic the latest contact will prompt a different approach to trading with India that includes more collaborative, joint work on helping India build its capacity and productivity including areas of crop and food production.

Multiple opportunities also exist in the services sector including software and education.
“The delegation has provided a massive injection of energy and momentum as we work to reframe the bilateral relationship and identify new opportunities that are grounded in our mutual objective of building sustainable trade supported by innovation,” he said.

Collaboration is a key focus for Indian officials as the country gains economic momentum and confidence in setting trade conditions on its own terms.

This has demanded more of a joint approach and less of a transactional “free trade” view of the relationship.

Bay of Plenty representatives included Tracey Burns GM of fruit exporters Freshmax Exports, and Matt Hill CEO of forestry phytosanitary company Phytos, along with Fox.

Log exports to India have peaked at almost $250 million a year seven years ago but have disappeared as a result of New Zealand now no longer allowing the use of methyl bromide treatment, the one treatment India requires from imported timber.

Hopes were high among the delegation for some restoration of this, and of a direct air link between India and New Zealand.

Minister for trade and export growth Damien O’Connor was optimistic about the direct air link coming after close discussion with Indian officials.

New Zealand’s Indian population amounts to 250,000, almost 5% of the population, with the Waikato-Bay of Plenty being the second largest concentration of people of Indian origin.

“The successful engagement between delegation members and their Indian counterparts points to an exciting future for trade and investment between our two countries, even in the absence of an FTA” said Micheal Fox.

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