Leader of Opposition Simon Bridges is batting, almost singlehandedly, to take bilateral relationship with India to the next level on his first official visit to the country.
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.
It seems that the National Party Leader has understood the nuances of doing business with India by being a friend first before talking about anything about business. At least this is what is coming out from Mr Bridges’ numerous public utterances and speeches in his ongoing India visit.
Earlier today speaking with The Indian Weekender from New Delhi over the phone, Mr Bridges acknowledged that given the size of India and the complexity of Indian political scene, it would be in our interest if the push for a more comprehensive relationship between the two countries comes from New Zealand government.
“If National Party forms next government I am committed to returning to India in 2021 as Prime Minister,” Mr Bridges said.
“Today, we have opportunities in front of us that we must seize if we want to see this relationship deepen, grow and prosper.
“India is the world’s fastest-growing major economy in recent years and by 2020 is expected to be the world’s 5th largest.
“With that growth, there is the opportunity for increased trade.
“New Zealand must ensure we are not sitting on our laurels, New Zealand understands that India is a fast-growing country and we want to ensure the foundation of our relationship we built over the past years is built on,” Mr Bridges said.
National Party Leader at the office of Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce of Industries (FICCI) in New Delhi
Visitors from India to New Zealand have more than doubled since 2011, with over 67,000 Indian tourists visiting New Zealand last year. India is New Zealand’s second-largest source of international students, with over 29,000 Indian students studying in New Zealand.
“The Government I lead will champion a direct flight between Auckland and Mumbai as the first stage in deepening our relationship,” Mr Bridges affirmed.
Leader of Opposition Simon Bridges taking a walk in New Delhi streets
Fixing visa delays a priority
Mr Bridges’ India visit coincided with a protest of disgruntled visa-applicants in front of Immigration New Zealand (INZ)’s Mumbai office, which is experiencing an unprecedented delay in processing-times of visas, particularly partnership-based visas.
Although Mr Bridges was not in Mumbai, but was acutely aware of the issue and related frustrations within applicants and their family members and expressed extreme dissatisfaction with the manner this issue was being dealt with.
“Presently, too many Indian nationals wanting to visit New Zealand for tourism or study face unreasonably long delays with Immigration New Zealand.”
“This did not use to be the case,” Mr Bridges said.
“Visa processing times have slipped significantly over the last two years. This uncertainty is now having a significant impact on tourism affecting smaller tourism businesses and international education providers who are losing out on this important market
This year alone tens of millions of dollars have been lost to New Zealand companies because students and visitors have not had their visas issues in time to start their studies or take their trip.
“This level of uncertainty is unacceptable, and I call on the New Zealand Government to invest in the Indian market and urgently fix this problem before more harm is done,” Mr Bridges said.