RNZ | 5 April 2022
Govt urged to adapt its approach to secure trade deal with India
by Sally Murphy
Australia and India signed an interim free trade deal at the weekend after a decade of negotiations.
It cuts tariffs on a range of Australian exports to India, including sheepmeat, wool and lobsters.
It also includes a phased reduction of tariffs on wine and a host of other agricultural products including avocados, nuts, cherries and other fruits.
Meat Industry Association senior manager of trade policy Esther Guy-Meakin respected that the government has been working hard on free trade deals with the UK and EU - but said it was frustrating Australia had beaten Aotearoa to the multi-billion dollar Indian market.
"India is a big market. It’s a diverse market and I think a lot of what New Zealand produces complements India’s consumers, particularly for the red meat sector. India as a market has huge potential.
"Pre-Covid, we had been making good inroads particularly with lamb products into the foodservice industry but they have quite big tariffs, and it’s a complex regulatory environment as well, so a free trade deal we would hope would help with both of those issues."
Guy-Meakin said there had been considerable effort by successive governments to try and negotiate a deal with India but little progress has been made.
New Zealand could learn from Australia, she said.
"We need to think about the way we have been engaging with India and reflect on what’s worked and what hasn’t and how we might adapt our approach.
"Particularly in terms of trade strategy, we could think about whether New Zealand’s trade strategy is still fit for purpose across all markets, or whether we could adapt to that in the way that Australia has to some of those more challenging markets.
"And by that, I mean Australia and India have concluded this kind of mini deal that looks to clear away the easy ones first, and then build on that in slower time."
Minister for Agriculture and Trade Damien O’Connor said concluding a free trade agreement between New Zealand and India is not a realistic short-term prospect.
"Intensive negotiations were held between India and New Zealand in the context of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership FTA negotiations, especially in 2018 and 2019, before India withdrew from the RCEP negotiations in November 2019.
"RCEP contains provisions enabling expedited accession by India should it wish to re-join RCEP at some point in the future."
O’Connor said in the meantime New Zealand and India continued to work together to strengthen their broader bilateral relationship.
"We are acutely aware of the impact an ’early-harvest’ Australia-India deal may have on future commercial opportunities for some New Zealand exporters, and we are engaged closely with industry leaders on this."
For now, the government’s focus was on successfully delivering the UK free trade agreement and negotiating the conclusion of the FTA with the European Union, he said.