Venkat Raman –
The second official visit of Prime Minister John Key to India from October 25 to 27, 2016 (cut short by a day due to grounding of the Royal Airforce Boeing 757 in Townsville, Queensland, Australia) produced no more than a couple of Memoranda of Understanding (MoU), and the usual goodwill statements.
Mr Key was under no illusion that his government would sign a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with India during the visit. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi is now speaking of a ‘Closer Economic Relationship’ with New Zealand, sending an entirely new set of signals to his officials. Although FTA with India appears farther than it ever was, the visit opened new vistas of engagement, at least for the private sector.
Prime Ministerial visits often trigger unrealistic expectations; but Mr Key is wise to remain optimistic but understand the ground realities.
He emerged as the Master of Diplomacy during his two-day stay in Delhi and untiringly participated in the activities of the business delegation that accompanied him to India.
The main achiever of the visit was indubitably the India New Zealand Business Council (INZBC), which not only made the best of the trip but also vetted the appetite of an otherwise disinterested Indian media. Most newspapers gave coverage to the visit and at least one national channel interviewed Wenceslaus Anthony, the Council’s Head of Government Relations and the hero of the business delegation. His two colleagues Bhav Dhillon (Treasurer) and Jacob Mannothra (Executive Committee Member) were also active participants in a number of developments.
The Council was neither reinventing the wheel nor was it trying to break the impenetrable economic wall that shields India’s agricultural and diary sector. But it did expand the horizon of cooperation and partnership with the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and the Association of Chambers of Commerce (ASSOCHAM). Together, these organisations account for more than 95% of India’s manufacturing, international trade, investment and service sector industries.
Viewed thus, INZBC has now arguably become the raison d’ȇtre of New Zealand business although it still has some lengths to cover in terms of being the true representative of Indian businesses and with a holds-no-bars attitude.
Mr Anthony and Mr Dhillon were engaged in meetings with their professional counterparts in Delhi and these have not gone without results.
The first and perhaps the most relevant of the MoUs signed was the one with FICCI on an Education and Training Summit in Auckland next year.
Mr Anthony said that the theme, ‘Edutech 2017- Knowledge, Skill, Technology,’ would be appropriate, given New Zealand’s growing reputation as a quality education destination.
“Since Education has been identified as one of the focused sectors for collaboration between the two countries, this Summit would provide an ideal platform for bringing the people involved in the education sector on a common platform. The Summit is supported by the New Zealand Government,” he said.
The MOU was signed by FICCI Secretary General Dr Alwyn Didar Singh with his colleagues, including Dr Rajesh Pankaj (Joint Director, Higher Education), Dr Gunveena Chadha (Assistant Secretary General), Gaurav Vats (Joint Director) and Assistant Director Poonam Patodia.
Mr Anthony signed the MoU on behalf of INZBC in the presence of other members of the New Zealand delegation. Among them were Mr Dhillon, Mr Mannothra, Jenn Bestwick, Sushrutha Metikurke (respectively Chairperson and International Marketing Manager, ARA Institute) and Chris Gosling (Whitiera College and Wellington Institute of Technology Chief Executive).
Dr Didar said, “We welcome this unique MOU and look forward to many more summits to enhance the bilateral relationship between India and New Zealand.”
Mr Anthony said that INZBC has been associated with FICCI for almost 20 years and that the opportunity to work together in organising the Education Summit was propitious.
“INZBC looks forward to working with FICCI to promote education and technology. We are credible organisations and partners with resources. We look forward to working with other stakeholders and education partners and both the governments,” he said.
The ASSOCHAM link
Five years ago, during his tenure as INZBC Chairman, Mr Anthony formed an alliance with the Association of Chambers of Commerce (ASSCHOM) a 96-year-old professional organisation with more than 450,000 trade associations as its members. That Alliance, signed in Delhi on June 28, 2011 during the first official visit of Mr Key followed five years of engagement and participation of officials at INZBC meetings in New Zealand.
The recent visit provided an opportunity for INZBC to sign a formal MoU with the organisation. Mr Anthony signed the document with Gaurav Tripathi, Joint Director, International Affairs.
“This was another milestone achievement for INZBC. With this MoU, we will be the only New Zealand based organisation to have Memoranda of Understanding with all major business organisations based in India, namely CII, FICCI, ASSOCHAM and the Punjab, Haryana and Delhi Chambers of Commerce,” he said.
Although not consequential, a meeting with Dr Anup Wadhawan, Additional Secretary Commerce & Industry, who was recently appointed as Lead Negotiator for FTA discussions and his team consisting of Dammu Ravi (Joint Secretary), Sudhanshu Pandey(Joint Secretary) and Seetharam Reddy (Additional Director General, Foreign Trade) held at Udyog Bhavan served as a good insight.
Mr Dhillon said that INZBC assured the FTA team of close working relationship.
“We assured them that we will provide all the necessary information and help required from New Zealand and impressed upon them that New Zealand companies are keen to have a meaningful and high quality FTA,” he said.
Mr Mannothra outlined the features of the Forestry Sector in New Zealand and the value addition that could be done in India.
Mr Anthony utilised the brief stop-over at the Kochi International Airport to meet T C Mathew, Vice-President, Board of Cricket Control of India (BCCI) and explore the possibility of Cricket training and coaching between the two countries.
“We have done our best. It is now up to the government in general and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, New Zealand Trade & Enterprise, Education New Zealand and Export New Zealand to work with credible organisations and build on the relationships established,” Mr Anthony said.
INZBC Chairman Robert Barker said, “This trip highlighted the fact that New Zealand considers India as a great partner in its growth and progress. Such meetings help in growing the people-to-people engagement that our council and other government agencies strive to achieve.”
Timber Park in Gujarat
As reported in our November 1, 2016 issue, one of the highlights of the visit was the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed by Zindia Limited, the largest exporter of timber products to India with Adani Port and SEZ Limited to promote a Timber Industrial Park at Mudra Port in Gujarat.
Zindia Managing Director Jacob Mannothra (who is also Managing Director of Indian Newslink Limited, publishers of Indian Newslink and owners of other Indian Newslink brands) signed the MoU with Karan Adani, Managing Director of Adani Port and SEZ Limited in the presence of Mr Key and India’s Minister of State for Finance Arjun Ram Meghwal in New Delhi on Wednesday, October 26, 2016.
The signing ceremony was a part of a business meeting organised by CII in association with FICCI, INZBC and several other trade organisations and public and private undertakings in India.
The Zindia team included RCM Reddy, Managing Director, IL& FS Education & Technology Services, Yogesh Jain, Director, Zindia based in New Delhi and Sharat Kanthan, Head of Business Development Zindia-Adani Timber Industrial Park.
Mr Mannothra said that the proposed Adani-Zindia Timber Industrial Park (AZ-TIP) will be the largest project of its kind in India promoted by a New Zealand forestry company in India.
“It will catalyse the promotion of a world class timber industry which will help the infrastructure development of India, encourage the use of sustainably produced, environment friendly, plantation derived, forestry products sourced primarily from New Zealand. Being a Port-based Industrial Park, coupled with efficient rail-linked nationwide distribution system, it will be cost effective and have low carbon footprint,” he said at the signing ceremony.