New Zealand Parliament Buildings, Wellington, New Zealand.
Article sponsored by NewzEngine.com

Political Roundup: New Zealand’s relationship with India is in trouble

Analysis By Geoffrey Miller.

New Zealand’s relationship with India is not in good health. That’s the underlying message from a rare visit to New Zealand by India’s external affairs minister, Dr. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar.

Jaishankar met with his New Zealand counterpart, Nanaia Mahuta, last Thursday – but only for an hour.

At a press conference with Mahuta in Auckland, Jaishankar was publicly critical of New Zealand’s unwillingness to renew visas for Indian students who had left New Zealand during the Covid-19 pandemic and called for ‘fairer and more sympathetic treatment’.

Mahuta’s response to the criticism was to pass the buck to Michael Wood, New Zealand’s immigration minister, who was conveniently not present, and to point to hardships suffered by New Zealand students themselves.

Jaishankar reiterated his criticism at other engagements during his trip and on Twitter, and the comments dominated Indian media coverage of his five-day visit to Auckland and Wellington.

Despite the usual pleasantries, there was a sense that India had lost patience with New Zealand – a sentiment that was underlined by Jaishankar’s later observation in Wellington of ‘there is a larger world out there’.

Even more troubling from New Zealand’s perspective, was the extraordinary admission by Mahuta that a free trade agreement was ‘not a priority for New Zealand or India’.

Instead, Mahuta could only point to potential economic cooperation in ‘niche areas’ such as digital services and ‘green business’ – a seemingly underwhelming approach that was endorsed by Jaishankar.

It is a far cry from the bold and ambitious India strategy that was launched by New Zealand to much fanfare in February 2020, when the then foreign affairs minister Winston Peters travelled to India.

The strategy, called ‘Investing in the relationship’, listed a free trade agreement as one of the major goals.

But the underlying theme of the blueprint was the need for a more long-term, sustained commitment by New Zealand to forging ties with the much larger India.

To this end, the plan called for ‘more frequent high-level government engagements to build the trade, economic, political and security aspects of the relationship’.

Of course, the timing of the launch of the strategy turned out to be unfortunate. Within weeks of Peters’ visit to New Delhi, most of the world had entered some form of lockdown to combat the Covid-19 pandemic.

But the overarching principle – that New Zealand needs to spend far more time and effort on the India relationship, without necessarily expecting an immediate pay-off – still holds true.

Trade figures demonstrate the difficulties New Zealand’s relationship with India is facing.

While New Zealand’s exports to India were approaching $NZ2 billion annually in 2017, they have since collapsed to under $NZ800 million.

The impact of Covid-19 – which stopped Indian tourists and students coming to New Zealand – explains much of this slide, but by no means all of it. The initial decline actually began in 2018.

In fact, the deterioration has been so dramatic that India now ranks only 15th place in the list of New Zealand’s biggest trading partners.

As recently as 2016, India was New Zealand’s 10th biggest trading partner.

For comparison, New Zealand now sells less to India than it does to the United Arab Emirates.

Moreover, Jaishankar’s forthright criticisms of New Zealand’s handling of visas suggest that India is in no rush to encourage its citizens to head back to New Zealand now that the Covid-19 pandemic has eased.

Despite the warning signs, New Zealand’s Labour Government has shown only limited interest in nurturing the relationship with India, even allowing for Covid-19 travel disruption.

To his credit, New Zealand’s trade minister, Damien O’Connor, did at least fly to India last month, albeit only for a brief two-day visit.

But last week’s visit by Jaishankar would have been an opportune moment for Jacinda Ardern to signal an intention to visit India herself – as she did with China in August.

But neither Ardern, nor Mahuta gave any hint that a visit to New Delhi is on the horizon.

Even when India’s external affairs minister was in New Zealand, Ardern fitted in only a sideline meeting with him at an Indian community event in Auckland.

To find a contrast with New Zealand’s experience, one only needs to look to Australia, which hosted Jaishankar this week.

press conference between Jaishankar and Penny Wong, Australia’s foreign minister, seemed particularly warm.

Wong was keen to point out that she had already met her Indian counterpart some seven times since she became foreign minister in May.

And from the Indian side, there was no parallel in Canberra to the criticisms Jaishankar had expressed about New Zealand’s government while in Wellington and Auckland.

The Australia-India relationship has undoubtedly blossomed since the revival of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (or Quad for short, an arrangement that also includes Japan and the United States) in 2017, but there is more to it than just that.

Australia and India entered into a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership in 2020.

And this year, they signed a free trade deal with India that will eliminate tariffs on over 85 per cent of Australian exports.

The deal is not perfect – it includes wine and sheepmeat, but it completely excludes dairy.

Nevertheless, India is already Australia’s seventh-biggest trading partner – and growing.

The current strength of India’s relationship with Australia – and the relative weakness of ties with New Zealand – seems all the more remarkable when the current geopolitical faultline of Ukraine is brought into the equation.

Australia is one of Ukraine’s biggest supporters – and one of the top 10 donors of military aid.

By contrast, India has a very different position on the war.

New Delhi has steadfastly avoided joining the Western-led coalition which is backing Kyiv.

Indeed, in Canberra, Jaishankar was quizzed by media on India’s ongoing ties with Russia and its abstention in key UN votes criticising Moscow.

But the differences have not seemed to harm relations between Australia and India.

Instead, the two countries have effectively agreed to disagree on Ukraine and to work on shared interests in other areas.

In a time of extreme geopolitical polarisation, this is an achievement in itself.

While New Zealand has backed the West on Ukraine, it has done so in a more measured way than Australia – which in theory should make it easier to find common ground with India.

In Wellington, Jaishankar said New Zealand’s relationship with India was ‘due for refresh’.

He is not wrong.

But a reset will take time – and it will need leadership.
Geoffrey Miller is the Democracy Project’s international analyst and writes on current New Zealand foreign policy and related geopolitical issues. He has lived in Germany and the Middle East and is a learner of Arabic and Russian.

Other items of interest and importance today

CLIMATE CHANGE
Jamie Morton (Herald): Explained: How the Govt wants to price farm emissions
Luke Malpass (Stuff): Farmers and the climate: the toughest game of all for National
Luke Malpass (Stuff): Cabinet overruled Climate Change Minister James Shaw on agriculture emissions pricing plan
Michael Neilson (Herald): Government rejected James Shaw’s preferred option
Claire Trevett (Herald): The pickle for National – can climate consensus survive at the farm gate? (paywalled)
Herald: Why farmers are opposed to Govt’s emission plan
Heather du Plessis-Allan (Newstalk): The plan the Government has for farmers is an expensive exercise in stupidity
Gerhard Uys (Stuff): Farmers ‘blindsided’ by new emissions pricing plan
Jayden Holmes (Today FM): Climate Change Minister admits he’s on a ‘hiding to nothing’ with agriculture emissions scheme
Adam Pearse and Michael Neilson (Herald): Federated Farmers condemns Government’s agricultural emissions pricing plan
Jamie Gray (Herald): NZ agri emission charges will tip the scales in favour of trees – analysts
Eva Corlett (Guardian): New Zealand farmers may pay for greenhouse gas emissions under world-first plans
Newshub: Government’s planned emission charge for farmers gets mixed reaction
Amelia Wade (Newsroom): Government finally announces agricultural emissions plan – but how’s it gone down?
Herald: Why farmers are opposed to Govt’s emission plan
Herald: Editorial: He Waka Eke Noa emissions reduction copping it from all sides (paywalled)
Richard Harman: Farm emissions proposals shock ag sector and shake National (paywalled)
Anna Whyte (Stuff): Farmers want Government reversal of emissions plan, as tensions rise within community
Tina Morrison (Stuff): Groundswell calls for industry heads to resign over farm emissions plan
Esther Taunton (Stuff): Here’s how charging farmers for emissions could affect you
Rebecca Howard (BusinessDesk): He Waka Eke Noa wants more discussion on agricultural emissions (paywalled)
Anna Whyte (Stuff): Farmer groups claim emissions proposal could wipe out entire industries
Rebecca Howard (BusinessDesk): Govt plan to bring down farm emissions disappoints (paywalled)
Teanau Tuiono (Herald): Evidence clear on why New Zealand needs to change the way it farms
No Right Turn: Climate Change: Labour grovels to the sacred cow
Keith Woodford: Simon Upton, methane and forestry
Ian Llewellyn (BusinessDesk): Forest & Bird damns the dam and questions govt targets (paywalled)

LOCAL GOVERNMENT ELECTIONS
Toby Manhire (Spinoff): Just how big was the ‘change’ vote, and how many mayors hate Three Waters?
Richard Prebble (Herald): Why did so many Kiwis not vote in local elections? (paywalled)
Chris Knox and Julia Gabel (Herald): Key numbers behind the race to be mayor (paywalled)
Brigitte Morten (NBR): Local body elections more about candidates than party affiliation (paywalled)
Tom Hunt (Stuff): Failed Wellington mayoral candidate Paul Eagle confirms $24k in donations
Todd Niall (Stuff): Who gets the big jobs under Auckland mayor-elect Wayne Brown?
Dileepa Fonseka (Stuff): Think Big 2.0 stalls and Wayne Brown rises
Damien Venuto (Herald): ‘A clear mandate’ from 15 per cent of the city – How radical can Wayne Brown be?
Maria Slade (BusinessDesk): Will Wayne Brown stand up over Light Rail? (paywalled)
Oliver Lewis (BusinessDesk): Wayne’s world: what Auckland’s new mayor means for light rail (paywalled)
Sinead Gill (Stuff): First non-binary local politician joins one of NZ’s most ‘toxic’ councils
Moana Ellis (Local Democracy Reporting): ‘Embarrassment to democracy’: Fix election issues, says disappointed candidate
George Heagney (Stuff): Voter turnout below 50% despite councils’ best efforts
Morgane Solignac (Stuff): ‘A councillor for 26 hours’: Candidate’s family ‘devastated’ after results swing
Erin Johnson (Stuff): Auckland mayor Wayne Brown’s first 48 hours in the job includes diary mix-up
Maia Hart (Local Democracy Reporting): Is change needed? Marlborough has lowest voter turnout in 25 years

GOVERNMENT AND PARLIAMENT
Thomas Cranmer: Ardern resists calls for regulation of lobbyists
Matt Nippert (Herald): Regulator alleges Waipareira donation was ‘serious wrongdoing’ (paywalled)
Ximena Smith (Māori TV): Lobbying: the hidden ecosystem beneath the Beehive
No Right Turn: Closing the revolving door?
David Fisher (Herald): OIA delay on lockdown blunder documents after seven days interaction between police and Minister’s office (paywalled)
Andrea Vance (Stuff): Tourism Minister proposes international visitor levy increase to $200, Cabinet says no
Daily Blog: Something major about the minor parties – trend analysis
Will Trafford (Māori TV): No Tiriti referendum, no government – Seymour to Luxon

ECONOMY, EMPLOYMENT AND INEQUALITY
Imogen Wells (Newsroom): New Zealand ranked 136th in world on fair wealth distribution leading to call for new tax
Susan Edmunds (Stuff): Here’s what you need to be in New Zealand’s top 1%
Tom Pullar-Strecker (Stuff): Our multibillion-dollar blind spot over rising business profits
Ella Somers (BusinessDesk): NZ leaders more optimistic than global counterparts (paywalled)
Jem Traylen (BusinessDesk): Union launches hospitality fair pay campaign (paywalled)
Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): NZ urgently needs a Hospo Union – Unite can be that
Oliver Lewis (BusinessDesk): New migrant visa has a waiting list of … one (paywalled)
Jenny Ruth (BusinessDesk): Reserve Bank posts annual loss, won’t pay government a dividend (paywalled)
Thomas Manch (Stuff): ‘MindTheGap’ campaign delivers 8000-signature petition to Parliament
Kiwiblog: What are Effective Marginal Tax Rates?
Tom Pullar-Strecker (Stuff): Hundreds of thousands face steep increases in gas and electricity bills
Laura Smith (Stuff): Transport minister calls bus driver shortage a crisis; sector discusses issues and solutions
Duncan Bridgeman (Herald): SFO drops five-year-long investigation of accounting scandal at Fuji Xerox NZ

INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS
Sam Olley (RNZ): Helena Bay neighbours of sanctioned Russian oligarch Alexander Abramov fear loss of business
Thomas Manch (Stuff): Government places travel ban on NZ-linked Russian businessman Alexander Abramov
Adam Pearse (Herald): Russia-Ukraine war: NZ-linked Russian oligarch Alexander Abramov targeted in latest sanctions
RNZ: NZ-linked Russian Oligarch Alexander Abramov and family hit by tailored sanctions from government

OTHER
Mihingarangi Forbes (Newshub): Minister Carmel Sepuloni defends emergency housing after Rotorua’s new mayor Tania Tapsell hits out at ‘MSD strip’
RNZ: Radiology charges reflect creeping two-tier health system – Dr Victor Luca
Herald: Fletcher Building announces ten days gender affirmation leave for staff who are gender transitioning
Audrey Young (Herald): RNZ-TVNZ merger explainer: Tracey Martin on what’s going on behind the scenes (paywalled)
Grady Connell (Today FM): Helen Clark hits back at Andrew Little’s cannabis pardon claim

NO COMMENTS

LEAVE A REPLY

− 4 = 4

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.