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Shashi Tharoor Takes A Shot At Improving India-NZ Relations

Indian parliamentarian and author Shashi Tharoor

Indian parliamentarian and author Shashi Tharoor says New Zealand has to ask itself whether “it’s doing enough in some ways to be more of a priority for a country like India”.

“I don’t mean to be patronising or offensive…Most Indians would tend to say what does New Zealand has to offer us,” says Tharoor, who is in the city for Auckland Writers Festival 2024 that ends May 19, 2024.

“The concern, if you were a New Zealander, would be to ask whether New Zealand is a high enough priority for a giant like India,” Tharoor told The Indian Weekender when asked if Aotearoa has put its relations with India on low priority.

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Tharoor talked about the underdeveloped state of trade between India and New Zealand, pointing out it “has not developed to its full potential”.

The three-time Member of Parliament says the limited dairy industry in India proved to be a hindrance to a potential free trade agreement with New Zealand, which he believes could have been mutually beneficial. Tharoor praised New Zealand's dairy industry, describing it as a benchmark that no other country can match.

“Limited dairy industry in India chickened out of the possibility of a free trade with New Zealand,” says Tharoor. 

The possibility of a free trade agreement between the two countries was a promising announcement leading up to the 2023 elections in New Zealand. The National Party, in particular, emphasised the strategic importance of opening negotiations with India, with dairy being a key focus. 

But ironically, dairy has been a deal-breaker in bilateral trade discussions over the last decade. India hasn’t opened up its market to import of Kiwi dairy products, a mainstay of New Zealand exports globally.

When India’s Foreign Minister S Jaishankar visited New Zealand in 2022, his then-counterpart Nanaia Mahuta said that "a fair trade agreement at this time is not a priority for New Zealand or India". This gave rise to a perception that New Zealand does not benefit from India and that the latter is on low priority.

Despite these challenges, Tharoor disagrees with the notion that New Zealand considers India a low priority. He stresses on the need for countries of all sizes to cultivate relationships with partners that can be beneficial. 

Tharoor points out India's position as the third-largest economy in the world in terms of purchasing power parity, contrasting it with New Zealand's relatively smaller size.

“When you are a country of five million people, you can not afford low priorities. One needs to have relations with everybody who can be of some use to you,” Tharoor says. 

Tharoor also highlighted potential areas of collaboration, such as New Zealand's tech sector benefiting from India and Kiwis exploring tourism opportunities in India. 

He suggested India could do more to promote tourism to New Zealand, especially among the affluent population that can afford holidays.

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