The year 2020 has started off on a good note vis-à-vis India New Zealand Relations are concerned. Following closely on the heels of the visit of New Zealand Immigration Minister Ian Lees-Galloway to Mumbai last month, February marked another significant visit by the country’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Winston Peters and Trade Minister David Parker, along with a business delegation. The visit is expected address certain important areas of convergence in the relations between the two countries.
Historically India and New Zealand share several commonalities–a common legacy of British colonial rule and evolution of parliamentary forms of governance, as well as shared linkages through the Commonwealth. Apart from this, the two countries increasingly desire to develop a more nuanced and focused approach to understanding their mutual areas of interest and convergences, both bilaterally and in the broader context of the Indo-Pacific. It is in this context that New Zealand Deputy Prime Minister has initiated a New Strategic Paper titled “India 2025 – Investing in the Relationship” which will move the relationship forward along certain core areas.
Bilaterally, the focus of relations has revolved around the need to promote trade between the two countries which was the primary focus of the visit. The volume of two way trade in goods between India and New Zealand is still relatively small-to the tune of approximately NZ $ 1.5 billion. The total bilateral trade, including both goods and services, is to the tune of NZ $ 2.64 billion. The Trade Minister and the business delegation focused on increasing trade complementarities between the two countries and explored the potential to move towards an India-New Zealand Bilateral free trade agreement (FTA). Given India’s withdrawal from the mega trade bloc, Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), India too would be keen to address the progress of a bilateral level FTA with New Zealand.
Wellington, which is a more recent entrant into endorsing the strategic realities of the Indo-Pacific, clearly seeks to understand the significance of closer ties with New Delhi, within a larger framework of the regional context. Till recently, New Zealand shied away from the usage of the term Indo-Pacific, in favour of the Asia-Pacific, a term that was core to its foreign policy, wherein the economic realities of the region forged the move towards greater cooperation at the international levels. As a country geographically located in the southern end of the Pacific Ocean, its locational focus clearly evolved from the Asia-Pacific identity that served its national interests the most.
However, today there are greater geo-political compulsions, not only for New Zealand, but for many regional states to go beyond “conventionally’ accepted terms to highlight the structural changes shaping the regional and global orders. New Zealand’s recent endorsement of the Indo-Pacific is bringing it into newer areas of convergence with India in terms of its foreign policy calculus. India merits critical importance in this regard both in terms of its own position in the Indian Ocean and its larger and long term interests in the maritime regions of the Indo-Pacific. Moreover, there are clear areas of convergence between the two countries in terms of their promotion of a normative rules-based order in the maritime domain, based on the principles of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS), which will remain a primary focus in future deliberations between the two countries.
At the multilateral level, the two countries are part of several institutional mechanisms. The East Asia Summit (EAS) and the ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting Plus (ADMM+) offer two core options through which their interactions can be furthered at the regional level. This allows both countries to formulate agendas at the regional level to promote stability and peace through adherence to a normative order. As India evolves its foreign policy to include a Pacific identity for itself, New Zealand will increasingly play a critical role.
Script: Prof. Shankari Sundararaman, Centre For Indo-Pacific Studies, Sis, JNU