by | Sep 14, 2023 | Trade In The News


Published by Newsroom on 6 September 2023

Stephen Jacobi reports on the recent business delegation to India.

Every country has its contrasts and a subcontinent of 1.4 billion with thousands of years of history has more than most.  Today’s India can reach the moon, build super-highways and next generation technology, but, nek minute, you’re on a roughly paved road with tuk-tuks and cows jostling alongside the Mercedes.  What is not so evident to the casual visitor is the Government’s success in giving millions of the poorest an online bank account so they could receive direct payments during the pandemic or how the “India stack” is transforming access to digital identify and online finance.

The 50-strong New Zealand business delegation, which visited Delhi in the last week of August went to learn about these contrasts.  We were there to learn about India’s accelerating development and what role New Zealand could play.  We did not come with an FTA in the back pocket.  We tried that already.  While removal of market access and other barriers on both sides would undoubtedly galvanise the economic relationship, we need to try something new. “We want to get out of homilies about cricket” one senior adviser to Prime Minister Modi told us. “We want technology, fintech, space, global standards”.  There you have it.  An increasingly self-confident India sets its own terms. If we want to play a part, it will be up to us to work out what that will be.

Some of us were old hands – including the large contingent from the Indian diaspora – while others were less frequent or first-time visitors.  We were not the only guests in town – Delhi was set to welcome the world’s richest nations in the G20 and the capital has been spruced up for the occasion. Yet our hosts found time to welcome us warmly and our visit generated almost 50 stories in Indian media.  It was certainly useful to have a Minister and a Mayor in tow and to present a united business front with five business organisations co-sponsoring the visit under the leadership of the India New Zealand Business Council.

There’s little doubt the delegation helped amplify the outcomes from Minister O’Connor’s meeting with his counterpart, Hon Piyush Goyal.  Their joint statement focused on areas of immediate improvement – a possible re-start to the log trade which had been suspended after New Zealand reduced its use of methyl bromide as a treatment; new co-operation in agriculture and horticulture; and steps towards a direct air service.  Although the latter is a commercial decision for airlines, an upgrade to the air services agreement also signed during the visit makes some technical amendments which hopefully improves the regulatory environment for such a move.  In two addresses to influential Indian industry groups the Minister outlined his hope for substantial improvement in the relationship by 2026 – one hundred years since the first Indian hockey team visited New Zealand, showing that sport is still relevant in the bilateral context after all.  Moving together towards 2026 – EkSath 2006 in Hindi – was the theme of an impressive reception hosted by High Commissioner David Pine for 200 guests at the New Zealand Residence.  The support the delegation received from government  agencies in India was nothing short of exceptional.

As for the delegation, it was a heavy week of meetings and presentations.  The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) brought together a stunning array of expert panellists to discuss the global economy, trade policy and climate change. The meeting ran over time – so much so that the next group was literally banging on the door to get in – a country of 1.4 billion can be a little crowded!  At the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) delegates had the opportunity to interact with Indian SME counterparts.  The emphasis was on trade and investment in agri-food, pharmaceuticals, health-tech and technology as well as tourism and education. 

At Invest India, the government investment promotion agency, smart, young and mostly female sector exports presented on opportunities sector by sector and then state by state – a lot of valuable information to download and reflect on.   The India Oceania Business Council (IOBA), a Delhi-based organisation, graciously hosted a dinner at which the delegation could have further discussions with their members. These themes were brought together later in the week at the first ever India New Zealand Business Summit held in India. Organised by the India New Zealand Business Council, it brought together another bi-national audience to hear about success stories of New Zealand business in India including Rakon, Fisher and Paykel Healthcare and Zespri as well as investment opportunities in both countries.  No business card was left unexchanged in these various encounters.

The last day of the mission was well organised by NZTE and comprised visits to two major Indian businesses, both of which are family owned, globally active and heavily diversified.  Their commitment to quality, sustainability and customer satisfaction was impressive. Both have state of the art premises, a highly skilled workforce and far-sighted leadership.  This was a fascinating glimpse into Indian industrial competence.

What to make of all of this? India is every bit as dynamic as its impressive economic credentials claim.  It is a country that cannot be ignored but nor can it be under-estimated. Doing business in India presents an array of commercial and cultural challenges  and rewards will only come as a result of persistence and investment.  A comprehensive FTA at some point would definitely help for our largest export sectors.  In the meantime there is a lot the New Zealand Government can do, especially with a beefed up presence on the ground, to smooth the way but business has a role to play too. Only a truly joined up effort is going to result in material difference.  The organisers and members of the delegation are willing to step up.  

There are no magic wands. Yet, in this land of contrasts, if India can reach the moon, and a New Zealand company like Rakon can help them get there, surely we must be able to apply that sense of common endeavour to the relationship as a whole.


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