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Source: New Zealand Government

Day 2, India New Zealand Business Council 7th International Summit, Auckland (speech delivered virtually)

Tēnā koutou katoa,

Namaste, Sat sri akal, Assalamualaikum 

Good morning and good evening to you all,

Thank you for this opportunity to be with you virtually today. The India New Zealand Business Council has put together an excellent event; I’m grateful for the opportunity to contribute alongside such a distinguished line-up, and for Sameer’s hard work in putting it together. Can I acknowledge in particular His Excellency Muktesh Pardeshi, Indian High Commissioner, and Honorary Consul of India in Auckland Bhav Dhillon, and my co-panellist Amitabh Kant.

Before anything else is said, I want to acknowledge the tragic impact of COVID-19 in India. Many of you will have deep connections to India, family, friends, colleagues and business associates in India now, living through difficult times.  Our hearts are with them. 

He rā ki tua better times are coming. India is at the frontline of the world’s response to COVID-19, and its key role in the global vaccination effort is a testament to its generosity and expertise.

COVID-19 has placed an immense strain on us all, and we have felt that pressure in many ways. While it is first and foremost a health crisis, it has put unprecedented pressure on the way nations engage with each other, in what was already a tough environment for multilateralism. New Zealand’s response to this is to redouble our efforts to improve links with other nations – and our relationship with India should be no exception to this approach.

We have a warm and longstanding connection with India, and the point I want to make today is that framing it solely in an economic context does a great injustice to its breadth. India is a country that has so much going on in areas like technology, entertainment, and sport, in politics – owing to its status as the world’s largest democracy – and yes, in business too. Our relationship reflects all these factors and more.

Some of our most prominent businesspeople, entertainers, artists, politicians, and other eminent figures can claim Indian heritage. We’re travelling in more Indian-produced cars, buses, trucks, and motorbikes. And with e-commerce and app development particularly vibrant parts of India’s economy, it’s increasingly Indian-developed apps that New Zealanders are turning to on their smartphones, like Ola or Zomato.

Sport also demonstrates the rapidly changing nature of both India itself and the relationship between our two countries. While hockey and cricket – did I mention the cricket? – have dominated our perceptions of Indian sport, we now also see a number of New Zealanders and New Zealand-based football players making the switch to the Indian Super League, which while only founded in 2014 has managed already to attract some of the biggest names in football, not the least of whom is the Wellington Phoenix’s record goalscorer, Roy Krishna who now has Fiji and New Zealand claiming him as their own.

Of course there is one common strand to all these aspects of the relationship – the people of India, whether they live there or in the diaspora. I was fortunate enough late last year to speak at the launch of a report on the Economic Contribution of New Zealand Indians, commissioned by the Waitakere Indian Association. For the first time it quantified the economic activity of the Indian community. It found the 5% of our population who are Indian contribute $10b to our economy each year, or 3.3% of total GDP. It also noted that Indians are on average more qualified, more likely to be in work, and are increasingly working in higher income industries and occupations.

We are proud to have thriving Indian communities in New Zealand – including some who are relatively new to our shores, and others who have been here for many generations.  While around a quarter of the people in these communities were born in New Zealand, the remainder were born overseas – particularly in India and Fiji. And these communities are diverse – representing many languages, religions, and unique cultural traditions.

Hindi is now the fifth most widely spoken language in New Zealand, and the Indian diaspora claims a greater share of the population than in Canada, Australia, the UK, or the US. The contribution of these communities to our country is enormous – and belies their modest share of our total population.

There is of course still more we can do to empower our ethnic communities to reach their full potential, to the benefit of us all. Our first ever Minister of Indian-origin, Priyanca Radhakrishnan; with her portfolio that includes Diversity, Inclusion and Ethnic Communities is spearheading these efforts, including the establishment of the new Ministry for Ethnic Communities, which will be the first time our ethnic communities have had that level of representation in Government.

Working together to grow our partnership

The countries that are most effective in cooperating with others recognise relationships must be broad as well as deep – reflecting the increasingly borderless world in terms of the entertainment we enjoy, the food we eat, the technology we rely on, and the people we interact with.

In a similar vein, India’s much-discussed rise is not just something that occurs in a narrow, abstract, economic sense, but instead is manifesting itself in a wide range of ways – and so to should the bilateral relationship. Our trade links stand to benefit if we take this broad approach, and vice versa.

Bilateral relationships, then, are much more than the flow of goods across borders. Of course, trade is an enabler, and the free moment of goods, services and investment has brought us all closer together for generations, but this is only one part of the picture. If a bilateral relationship is a platform, ours rests on several foundations: a strong political relationship borne out of shared interests; strong people-to-people ties underpinned by education and migration; and our businesses investing and exporting between our two countries.

Strengthening our ties makes sense even before you consider the increasing role India plays in the Indo-Pacific, a region gaining even greater strategic significance of late. New Zealand recognises the positive role India can play in ensuring Indo-Pacific nations continue to embrace a cooperative, rules-based approach in the international sphere – something which serves all of us well.

But I think for too long successive governments have looked to India primarily as a market for our exports. It’s true businesses must be looking for new markets to diversify into. And yes, the government plays a critical role in enabling businesses to achieve that through Free Trade Agreements. But that is not – and cannot – be the only string to our bow when it comes to New Zealand’s bilateral relationship with the second most populous country in the world – a country in our own Indo-Pacific neighbourhood, and a country to whom a significant diaspora in New Zealand have deep family, social and economic ties.

I believe there will be all sorts of opportunities to tap into here – perhaps in industries like dairy, tech, or public health – and that through a concerted, strategic effort to elevate our ties with India, we could see our relationship truly flourish.

Of course, there are a number of examples which demonstrate the wide range of collaboration that exists already between New Zealand and India, from apple production in Himachal Pradesh through to disaster response in the Pacific.

As it stands, we do not have a trade agreement in place with India – either bilateral or regional. Of course we would love to see India join us in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Agreement at some point in the future. But ultimately that decision is India’s to make, and, for the time being, its decision is clear and we respect it.

RCEP is, of course, not the only way these ties can be strengthened, and the Government is enthusiastic about exploring other options for economic cooperation, including at the state level – recognising that India is a proud federal union of 28 states and 9 union territories, each with considerable autonomy and a distinctive cultural and economic identity. I know Australia has had considerable success through this approach, and I’m keen to learn more about what we can do as a Government to pursue this.

So where do these opportunities exist?

I would be interesting in learning from you all where you think the opportunities might lie, but would like to offer you some observations of my own.

We need to be bold, and the partnership must be underpinned not only by trade, but with investment and information-sharing, as well as the broader links I have already discussed.

As many of you will know, New Zealand has the number one spot on the World Bank’s “ease of doing business” index, a metric that governments and investors watch closely. Over the last three years, India has made impressive progress in this area, moving from a ranking of 130th to 63rd in the world. The Indian Government has shown interest in how we have achieved our top ranking. Engaging together with India in a collaborative way about business practices, possibly through one of our officials-level dialogues or through a new less formal mechanism to share experiences when it comes to business practices should be explored further, beyond what has taken place already. The better we understand one another’s systems and methods, the better positioned we are to realise opportunities.

This sort of cooperation would not be new – already, there is regular dialogue between India’s Ministry of Finance and the New Zealand Treasury, and between India’s Ministry of External Affairs and the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. These allow for the sharing of knowledge and experiences in economic and trade policy.

I know also some of New Zealand’s most significant businesses operating in India have convened to form the “India Investment Group”, which aims to lift the level, quality, and profile of New Zealand investment in India. The Group is advising on how to grow New Zealand’s investment footprint in India, recognising the desire on India’s part for greater investment.

There are already well over 140 New Zealand companies investing in India. Several different industries have been singled out as having great potential for growth or opportunities for information-sharing – these include agriculture, tourism, education, high-quality foods, software, engineering, and consultancy and professional services.

Before I move on, I want to highlight one of the exciting examples we are seeing from the New Zealand India relationship.

A relatively nascent business relationship is between the Christchurch Engine Centre (CEC) and IndiGo Airlines. The Engine Centre secured a multi-million dollar aircraft maintenance contract with IndiGo Airlines earlier this year, and already they have provided servicing for half a dozen V2500 engines at around US$10 million each. This is a great example combining a niche set of skills and expertise from New Zealand with a scale and proportion that only the Indian economy could provide.

This relationship was nudged along with support from New Zealand Trade and Enterprise with regulatory approvals and registration with India’s Director-General of Civil Aviation, as well as by the Ministerial Mission in February 2020 by then Trade Minister David Parker and then Foreign Minister Winston Peters, who visited the Indigo Airlines facility to support this outcome.

Navigating Covid-19

Of course many in the room are no doubt wondering what we are doing now specifically to ensure economic links are sustained as the world edges its way through the pandemic and its economic fallout.

We’ve been working across the globe with all of New Zealand’s partners, including India, to mitigate these impacts. The underlying understandings we all share within the wider Indo-Pacific region provide a firm foundation for this work – and to highlight its urgency, I’m advised that during the course of the pandemic nearly 80 World Trade Organisation members have imposed more than 100 new restrictions or trade barriers.

As you know, COVID-19 has exposed some real vulnerabilities in global supply chains.

Right from the start of the pandemic, the New Zealand Government has moved quickly to keep supply chains open for essential imports, to maintain connectivity, and to reduce trade barriers. Keeping air links open has been critical for our exports, while global shipping routes have faced severe capacity constraints, including a well-documented shortage of containers.

As one of the largest pharmaceutical and vaccines producer, we recognise India’s vital role in the global response to COVID-19. We are grateful to India for its support in supplying critical medicines to New Zealand over the course of the pandemic, despite the pressures on global supply chains.

Now, as a Government, we are acutely aware that many businesses and exporters have been hit hard by COVID-19. This is why the Government committed an additional $216 million to New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE) as part of Budget 2020, to get behind our exporters.

I’ve talked a lot today about the importance of people-to-people connections between our two countries. The pandemic has profoundly disrupted those relationships and I want to acknowledge how difficult this has been for so many people: separated families, businesses unable to attract skilled workers from overseas, the overall disruption to our immigration system, and the inability of people to attend funerals, weddings, and significant life events that in normal times bring people together across continents. As we emerge from COVID, governments will restore the freedom of movement we once all took for granted as soon as safety allows.

Shared people and values

Before I conclude, I want to share a couple stories that I have come across in recent weeks of Indian migrants that highlight the values that connect India and Aotearoa New Zealand.

First, a tale of two brothers, Manoj Kumar and Sumit Kamboj were named 2021 Share Farmers of the Year at the New Zealand Dairy Industry Awards. The two brothers are third generation farmers who grew up in a small village on a 12 hectare family farm, with 10 cows and a mix of other crops and animals – a far cry from the 460 cow farm they now work at in Eketāhuna. They migrated to New Zealand in 2010, and were employed as share milkers on a farm on the Mangaone River. Since then they have become well-respected members of the community. They were applauded for their efforts in supporting members of the community, including a Wellington chef who had lost his job during last year’s lockdowns, to retrain and enter the dairy industry. This is one of many success stories of those coming from India with their own unique set of values and history and bringing so much to New Zealand communities.

More recently, two Kiwi-Indians were recognised in the Queen’s Birthday Honour list earlier this month. India New Zealand Business Council Chair Sameer Handa and Sergeant Gurpreet Singh Arora of New Zealand Police were made Members of the New Zealand Order of Merit. Mr Handa was recognised for his services to business and New Zealand-India relations, and this year’s event is another example of his work in action. Sergeant Arora was recognised for his services to the New Zealand Police and to ethnic communities over the course of his 15-year long career. I’d like to acknowledge the incredible and positive impacts these two have made, and continue to make, on the community in New Zealand, and on our bilateral relations with India – and congratulate them.


When we look at the world, there is no doubt there will be challenging times ahead. The pandemic has changed us in ways we could not predict, and in many ways that we cannot reverse. What we can do is continue to invest in people, in relationships, and in opportunity.

The relationship between India and New Zealand is full of promise. The examples I have mentioned highlight its depth and the impact of India and Kiwi-Indians on Aotearoa. But there is much more we can achieve together – and I know the Government is committed to doing this.

We have the benefit of an energetic Indian expat community in New Zealand, and I’m a strong believer in harnessing this energy to the advantage of the relationship between our two countries. At least in the medium term, this potential will not be realised by technocrats and trade agreements, but by allowing the full richness of our connections to flourish, from entrepreneurs and investors to scientists and sportspeople.

Nōreira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā tātou katoa.

Thank you.

Please note: Speech as delivered may differ from notes