In a new normal amidst a raging global pandemic, the 3rd India-NZ Foreign Office Consultation was held online on Tuesday, May 25, where the two sides affirmed mutual commitment further to advance the bilateral relations between the two nations.

India’s delegation was led by Riva Ganguly Das, Secretary (East), while the New Zealand side was led by Mark Sinclair, Deputy Secretary, Asia and Americas, along with the respective High Commissioners of the two countries joining with their respective teams.

Both sides reiterated the importance of the relationship and discussed the steps to be taken to enhance the depth and momentum of engagement in different areas, including defence and security, trade and investment, space, counterterrorism, cybersecurity, disarmament and climate change, and for strengthening people-to-people ties.

The two sides also discussed the response to the COVID-19 and access to vaccines and medicines for containing the pandemic globally.

Notably, this was the 3rd Foreign Office Consultation between the higher echelons of the foreign policy bureaucracy of the two countries – a long-existing mechanism - that was revived and revitalised following the visit of the former NZ Prime Minister Sir John Key to India in 2016.

Held at the higher leadership level within foreign policy bureaucracy of the two countries, such Foreign Office Consultation – acts as an important institutionalised mechanism to discuss all-important aspect of the bilateral relationship.

As per unstated diplomatic conventions, such Foreign Office Consultations are hosted alternatively by one country in their home country, and it was likely that this year the 3rd Consultation would have been held in New Zealand.

The last Foreign Office Consultation between the two countries was held in New Delhi on February 9, 2019.

Speaking to the Indian Weekender, the Indian High Commissioner to New Zealand Muktesh Pardeshi expressed satisfaction saying that we have a strong momentum of top-level political engagement between the two countries.

“Last year, just before lockdown and border closure, we had a very successful visit from the then Deputy Prime Minister & Foreign Minister of New Zealand to India.”

“Recently, as late as March 1, this year, we had a 45-minute telephonic conversation between External Affairs Minister of India Dr S. Jaishankar and Foreign Minister of New Zealand Nanaia Mahuta on how to build-up the bilateral relations between our two countries.”

“So we clearly went into this Foreign Office Consultation with some momentum,” Mr Pardeshi said.

Reinvigorating Joint Trade Committee to discuss bilateral trade & investment.

Illustrating further on what he thought was the key takeaway of this Consultation, Mr Pardeshi said, “Apart from a comprehensive review of different facets of bilateral relations between our two countries, a key takeaway was mutual desire to reinvigorate Joint Trade Committee to deepen our discussions around trade and investments.”

Notably, Joint Trade Committee has been an existing foreign policy mechanism between the two countries that has for some time been working under the broader framework of RCEP and FTA discussions.

Mr Parsehi said both sides had shown a keen desire to revitalise that committee in a manner to create synergies for deepening trade and investment between two countries without any seemingly restrictive framework.

It clearly reflects a mindset and willingness on both sides to sidestep any perceived setback from creating a mutually workable free trade regime either within RCEP or directly under FTA.

“Virtual diplomacy” in age of Covid – Indian envoy shares insights

Sharing further insight on the changing nature of “virtual diplomacy,” Mr Pardeshi said, “Like everyone else, we diplomats are also adjusting with the changes brought around by the Covid pandemic and relying more on digital platforms.”

“On one hand, this has enhanced our abilities to engage with foreign diplomats from otherwise distant regions of the world, which was previously not possible, thereby enhancing the level of engagement between countries in a Covid world,” MR Pardeshi said.

“However, on the flip side, the otherwise available special tools such as ‘corridor diplomacy’ or ‘pull-aside-diplomacy’ which diplomats all around the world have been employing to deepen the engagement or weeding out some differences are being lost in the new era of virtual diplomacy,” Mr Pardeshi said with a smile.