India and New Zealand have much to gain from a strong bilateral partnership with new opportunities of cooperation rapidly emerging.
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi meeting with New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern
It is, without a doubt, widely accepted that the Indo-Pacific is going to be the theatre of geostrategic development in the near future. Major players such as the US and China are looking towards building their footprint in the region to gain massively from the growing potential. However, the role of the states within the region comes to the forefront when we try to understand how a stable, secure and prosperous Indo-Pacific can be achieved.
India, in the recent past has established a strong foundation towards its relationship with Australia creating a robust bilateral relationship within the region. The ratification of the ECTA, the strong diplomatic exchanges and the greater presence of the Indian diaspora in Australia has together contributed to what can be considered the fastest growing friendship in an era of conflict, war and mistrust among strategic players. However, this is just the beginning. The beginning of not just India’s engagement with Australia but also with the other partners in the region.
New Zealand occupies an important position in this regard. Taking the India-Australia ties as a precedent, it can be easily proposed that India and New Zealand can also build a partnership with the same rigour and enthusiasm. The shared vision of a stable and secure Indo-Pacific could become a backbone of this endeavour. At this point, much remains to be explored in the potential that exists between India and New Zealand and what the partnership can bring to the table for all the other players in the Indo-Pacific.
The ties that exist
It cannot be assumed that the two countries have not engaged with each other at all. Even though much of the potential remains untapped, both the countries have looked towards each other for deepening the partnership before as well.
It is interesting to note that New Zealand had released an India centric strategy back in 2011 by the then Prime Minister of New Zealand, John Key. The strategy was named “Opening Doors to India” and it largely catered to acknowledging the immense potential that the country occupies, whether it be in soft power or hard power dynamics. This strategy was regarded as the first of its kind where the New Zealand leadership rallied a specific focus on the potential for partnership with another country. This goes on to show that India was and will be a valuable partner for New Zealand if the policies build on this India Strategy further. One of the core principles of this strategy was to increase the economic exchange between the two countries and India’s economic growth potential as well as the huge market that the country provides is an attractive proposition.
A well-curated Free Trade Agreement between India and New Zealand was an important practical plan for this strategy, something that still needs to be made a reality. The negotiations for this Free Trade Agreement has been in the works but a tangible result still needs to be developed. In order to understand the benefits of an FTA between India and New Zealand, it is first important to have a look at where the trade ties stand at the moment and what do the countries stand to gain from such an agreement.
The average value of the two way trade in goods and services stands at about $ 2.6 billion between India and New Zealand. However, the statistics have declined a bit in the last few years as India started expanding its engagement with other regional partners as well. India’s exports to the country stood at about $ 704.3 million in 2021, the figure saw a reduction from $751 million back in 2019. The major exports from India constitute pharmaceutical materials, metals and jewellery as well as goods from the textile industry. Whereas, New Zealand primarily exports wood, coal, aluminium and even fruits to India. It would not be incorrect to suggest that over the past years, the trade relationship between the two countries has remained stagnant, if not declined in large numbers.
What is needed to build the ties further?
There are about 240,000 people of Indian origin residing in New Zealand. This strong Indian diaspora needs to be tapped into to understand the potential of the people- to-people relations that forms the backbone of any long lasting bilateral partnership. A report on the “Economic Contribution of New Zealand’s Indians” developed by the Waitakere Indian Association estimated the economic contribution of the Indian diaspora to be close to $10 billion in 2019 and about $180 million in tourist footfalls from India.
It is also evident that a sizable population of Indian students study in New Zealand and the country is the second largest source of international students in higher education such as information technology, engineering and architecture.
These factors can be expanded even more when it comes to improving the relationship between the two countries. There is also a need to look back at the India strategy of the New Zealand government and identify the key policy areas that can benefit from better engagement. India could also develop a similar strategy by focusing policy initiatives specifically towards building ties with New Zealand. While trade in coal and aluminium is underway, there is also a need to look into the potential to enhance trade further by focusing on the supply of materials that are in high demand. Both the countries could collaborate on the need assessment as well as subsequent research and development on potential for critical mineral trade. The opportunities for the renewable energy transformation sector could also be explored further.
Lastly, one cannot ignore the impact of soft power diplomacy. Much like the basis of the India-Australia ties, New Zealand also has a top class cricket team. Cricket could become a strong currency for partnership between the two countries. As India and New Zealand mutually recognize the importance they hold for each other, all the different domains of cultural, economic and diplomatic cooperation can add to the ties that would build a stronger Indo-Pacific.