Prime Minister John Key was recently at the Indian Weekender’s office to discuss his upcoming visit to India next week. Since this visit is happening after 5 long years and there are huge expectations from both sides, along with the Kiwi-Indian community in New Zealand, to make this visit successful, we used this opportunity to discuss in detail with the Prime Minister about his plans during the visits. Here are the excerpts from the exclusive interview.
IWK: Prime Minister, thanks for joining us this morning. We are here to discuss your upcoming visit to India. Can you please tell us when are you going to India?
PM: We are going on October 24 and coming back on October 28. We are going to visit both Mumbai and New Delhi, as they are the financial and political centres of India. We are taking a huge business delegation with us and are planning to discuss on a huge range of issues with India with our relationship growing from strength to strength in the recent years.
IWK: Which cities are you planning to travel in India?
PM: Three in total, Mumbai, New Delhi, and Kochi. Our Kochi visit is primarily because one of our New Zealand companies is engaged in infrastructure development [at] the Kochi airport. We want to review that and if possible, promote how New Zealand companies can assist in construction and development work in India.
IWK: How important is the relationship with India, for you?
PM: Over the time, very important. India is one of the prominent population bases of the world. China is another such population base. India's population demography is very similar to that of China—over a billion people, relatively young, and rapidly growing. When we look at the bilateral trade with China then it is around $20 billion, whereas right now bilateral trade with India is around $2 billion. So there is a tremendous opportunity on both sides—for Indian businesses to sell their products in New Zealand, and for New Zealand to sell their goods and services in India.
IWK: Why did it take you five years to visit India the second time, whereas you have visited China at least five times in the last eight years?
PM: Actually it is six times to China. This is partly because....with China there is an FTA which requires constant engagement between both the sides. In India, there was a change of government that made it a little bit difficult to plan a visit. The earlier Manmohan Singh government was in a difficult situation, and then Prime Minister Modi came in. He has plans to do so much. It is all about timing those events to get the maximum benefits.
IWK: What are your top three agendas for this India visit?
PM: First is trade...no questions about that. It is very important for us. Second is building awareness [about] New Zealand and the potential we have here. There are a lot of businesses and services that we have here in New Zealand that [the] Indian population is not aware of. For instance, Bollywood, which is huge in India, and we make Bollywood movies in New Zealand. We have world-class post-production facilities. Third is deepening the political level relationship between the two countries.
IWK: According to you what are the three key sticking points for the conclusion of FTA?
PM: Agriculture is always number one...and it's partly because the structure of agriculture sector in India typifies more of a developing economy with small animal and land holdings, which creates a lot of political pressure from a huge number of people creating fear that countries with sophisticated farming like New Zealand might put them out of business. But the reality is that we do not have the products, capability or the desire to do that. We want to work collaboratively with our friends in India.
Movement of people is always an issue; how many people can come and work in each other's market has always been an issue. Services would be the third point...India has many centres like Bangalore engaged in the production of low-cost and high-quality software related services.
IWK: Your government is widely seen to be more willing than any previous New Zealand government to accommodate India’s claim on NSG membership. How far is this correct?
PM: Well, certainly there is a degree of truth to it as we are trying to work constructively with India, the US and other like-minded countries to allow India to get into the nuclear supplier group. The fundamental principle is that India needs to produce a lot of energy in immediate future and it needs nuclear energy for that. Else, there is a substantial chance of reducing the greenhouse gases and that is what America is concerned [about], particularly President Obama. There are a variety of reasons, why India does not want to sign the nuclear proliferation treaty. The question is whether can we find pathways to allow India to become a member of the group without having to sign the NPT. Both Indians and Americans say that this is achievable. We want to sit with other like-minded countries and see where it goes.
IWK: Have you prepared any road-map to offer to India for getting New Zealand's support?
PM: Yes, we have sat down with both Indians and the Americans to work out what is achievable for India to become a member of the group. A lot will depend on upon how the negotiations proceed.
IWK: Coming back to engagement with Bollywood, are you planning to engage with Bollywood in a way similar to you have earlier engaged with Hollywood?
PM: Yes, I think we are getting the opportunity to do that. Bollywood star Sidharth Malhotra is New Zealand’s ambassador for tourism (in India). He is doing a lot of promotion of New Zealand tourism. A lot more Indians are coming to New Zealand these days and one thing about the Indian tourists that is not very well known here in New Zealand is that Indians are amazingly adventurous. If you go down to Queenstown you will note that a lot of Indians go for adventure sports like skydiving and bungee jumping. Indians are very brave.
IWK: We will take it as a compliment!
PM: Yes, it is.
IWK: Is New Zealand under the grips of anti-immigration sentiments?
PM: No, I don't think so. The reality is that we have very strong levels of migration, which is a good thing. To put it in a perspective, we have placed a soft cap at 100,000 and following our review, we might have overblown the cap. So we are trying to bring it down by 5,000. My personal view is that New Zealand is very much open to immigration and investments, so no change there at all. We just need to be able to keep up the pace for infrastructure, housing, and other demands. I think that the Indian community in New Zealand will also not like a situation where their own kids are overrun or get disadvantaged at school. So, this is not a major change.
IWK: What do you have to say about the Indian student deportation issue the Indian community in New Zealand is so concerned about? Do you think these issues could be sending a counter message around the world, and especially to India, which is one of our major sources of international students and immigrants?
PM: There has been a bit of a concern that some of the agents back in India have preyed upon people who obviously have limited information about New Zealand, and therefore, are often promised almost the world, which is often difficult to deliver. What I can assure you is that the numbers of students that are being sent back, is very low, far lower than the Chinese students. I can also assure you that all the students have been able to go through a review process. But my understanding is that not everyone will be able to get through it.