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India pitches for closer ties with New Zealand

Prez arrives in NZ

Auckland : With India’s ‘Look East’ policy evolving into ‘Act East’, President Pranab Mukherjee has pitched for closer ties with New Zealand and said the region has gained even “greater salience” in New Delhi’s strategic thinking and economic engagement.

The President, who arrived here on a maiden three-day state visit, spoke about the importance being attached by India to the Pacific region which he termed as a “natural extension of our immediate neighbourhood of South East Asia”.

“With our ‘Look East’ policy evolving into an ‘Act East’ policy, the region has gained even greater salience in our strategic thinking and economic engagement. Most of India’s foreign trade flows through the sea lanes of the Indian and the Pacific Oceans. These lanes also bring us the bulk of our energy – be it oil, gas or coal,” he said in an interview to a local daily ‘The New Zealand Herald’.

Mukherjee, who becomes the first President to travel to New Zealand, arrived here this morning and was received by officials. He was later accorded a ceremonial reception at the Governor General’s House which included a traditional rubbing of nose gently with New Zealand Governor General Sir Jerry Mateparae.

“I believe, this region holds tremendous potential for enhanced trade and investment as well as people to people contacts,” he said in the interview with the newspaper, which, however, focused on Free Trade Agreement and quoted New Zealand Prime Minister John Key as saying that their country wants advancement on FTA.

Other media reports quoted the Kiwi Prime Minister as saying that the visit of the Indian President will be a good opportunity to continue to talk trade and “discuss where we’re going”.

“India has demographics very similar to China,” he said, but added that “we do a lot less business with India than we do with China, and a lot less business with India relative to the size of the economy in India, so we’re keen to really push that closer economic cooperation at some point.”

In 2011, the New Zealand Prime Minister launched the NZ Inc India Strategy, a plan for India to become a core trade, economic and political partner for New Zealand.

The newspaper quoted Trade officials of New Zealand as saying that exports to India have fallen since 2011 from 900 million US dollar to 637 million dollars in 2015. Both countries had 10 rounds of negotiations on FTA.

On his visit to New Zealand, the first by an Indian leader since Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s visit to this country in 1986, the President listed many commonalities between the two countries.

“And, of course, we should never forget that cricket – followed so avidly in our two countries – is a strong binding force at a people-to-people level,” he said.

He said India’s large and expanding middle class, critical infrastructure and natural resource requirements, expanding economic and commercial presence in South-East Asia and close ties with Asia Pacific countries provide tremendous scope for intensifying bilateral economic and commercial ties.

“New Zealand has strong expertise in areas such as agriculture, food processing, high-end manufacturing, disaster management etc, which is of interest to India. Its tourism and education sectors also have significant strengths which could benefit India,” he said.

Asked what significant change was witnessed in India during his Presidency, Mukherjee said an important change was seen when the electorate of the country “freed” governance from the “compulsion of coalition politics”.

“One of the big achievements of the last two years has also been to tackle the problem of corruption. To this end, the government has transparently and through an open process, auctioned major public assets such as coal and spectrum,” he said.

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