National Party Leader Simon Bridges has affirmed that partnership with India needs a significant push, and that push has to come from the New Zealand government more than anywhere else.
Speaking exclusively with The Indian Weekender from New Delhi, where Mr Bridges is currently travelling in his first official visit along with National Party’s Foreign Affairs spokesperson Gerry Brownlee and the Kiwi-Indian MP Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi, Mr Bridges said, “Trade is an essential part of our engagement with India, but we need to engage with India more comprehensively.”
“We surely want a high-quality Free Trade Agreement (FTA), but there is much more beyond the scope of FTA to trade with India.”
“India is a huge market, and with a population of 300 million rich people who are willing to consume world-class products like New Zealand wines and dairy products, we should not be restricted by the opportunities available to Kiwi exporters,” Mr Bridges said.
External Affairs Minister with New Zealand’s Leader of Opposition @simonjbridges discussing Indo-Pacific and expanding bilateral relations (Image: Supplied)
When reminded of the fact that similar intent has been floating around for quite some time within the businesses and at the government-level and what a National government would do differently, Mr Bridges was quick to assert, “The last National government launched the NZ-India strategy almost a decade ago. It was followed by two visits by Prime Minister Sir John Key and several Ministerial visits.
“Unfortunately, no such visits have taken place in the last two year of the new government.
“I am committed to refreshing the NZ-India strategy,” Mr Bridges said.
“The NZ-India strategy is almost a decade old. We need to look at it again in government as an early priority and refresh our ambitions.”
“We need to renew our commitment to a comprehensive Free Trade Agreement covering goods, services, and investment. We need to take into account the growing influence of the Indo-Pacific. We need to improve our political contacts. In short, we will make India a key priority for foreign affairs and trade policy,” Mr Bridges affirmed.
Explaining further the rationale behind the much-desired push at the government level to push for a closer partnership with India Mr Bridges used the metaphor of cherry and watermelon.
“New Zealand and India are like cherry and watermelon. Their size might be different, but both are delicious.”
“New Zealand’s story is one that shows the value-free trade can deliver. It is not zero-sum: when we trade together, we prosper together,” Mr Bridges said.
Mr Bridges told the Indian Weekender that his meeting with the Indian Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar was extremely cordial and welcoming.
Later today Mr Bridges is scheduled to meet with Minister for Trade and Commerce and President of the ruling Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP).
Mr Bridges told that the interest was received to meet with the leadership of the Opposition Congress Party. However, the meeting could not be materialised due to lack of time and other logistical requirements.
Earlier, Mr Bridges had visited the famous Golden Temple at Amritsar, Punjab.
Simon Bridges also batted for a direct flight between New Zealand and India and vowed to fix the visa-delay issues currently affecting a large number of applicants from India.