Minister tries relationship rebuild with India

By Mana Wikaire-Lewis

Is there hope for a future India-New Zealand trade alliance?

India is among New Zealand's top 15 trading partners with two-way trade in goods and services, worth $2.2 billion but the two countries have never managed to agree on New Zealand's favourite kind of agreement, an FTA without tariffs, or even a limited agreement.

Previous governments found India's trade deal requirements too tough and talks faded out about seven years ago. Nevertheless Australia, which has also been trying for a trade deal with India over the years, finally achieved one earlier this year, signed by Scott Morrison's government.

However, Food Safety Minister Meka Whaitiri, who is currently in Singapore on her way back from India, has just attended the International Dairy Federation Summit in Delhi and says there are hopeful signs of building a relationship with India.

The summit attracted 1500 of the world’s leaders in the global dairy sector to discuss safety and sustainability of dairy products.

Whaitiri says New Zealand moved too fast to get a free-trade agreement in the past, and that India has a policy of self-reliance. So in her four days of attending the summit, she met four of India’s cabinet ministers, aiming to rebuild a meaningful relationship “for the future”.

'Open for business'

“It was to try to understand the Indian structure in the primary sector but really to introduce ourselves to say that New Zealand is really interested in forming a relationship,” she says.

“More importantly, [we wanted] to extend an invitation that New Zealand is open for business and to try to attract some of their ministers down to New Zealand.”

One result of the summit is that Whaitiri’s Indian counterpart could potentially be making a trip to Aotearoa in the New Year, she says.

Some of those she met were the animal husbandry minister, who was responsible for dairy and the minister of tribal affairs.

“The reception was extremely positive. It was so positive that they went straight to cooperative projects far beyond my portfolio. It started in food safety, then went to education.

“It was beyond a meet and greet; it was trying to look for opportunities where our peoples can work together.”

Te ao Māori

She is keeping an eye on other emerging economies to trade with and, with a budget boost for sustainability within the agriculture and primary sectors for NZ, is hoping that the talks in India will be beneficial for Māori in those sectors too.

“Our fit for a better world is our New Zealand primary sector strategy.

"Te ao Māori and our taiao are pretty much at the centre of that strategy, so as a Māori minister working in the primary sector, I think it is a really good fix between our traditional tikanga and kaupapa with the demands in the primary sector.”