India can come back to RCEP in the future, said New Zealand foreign minister and deputy prime minister, Winston Peters, but at present the Indian government’s position does not hold out much confidence that RCEP would go ahead with India

by Indrani Bagchi

In India to pick up the threads of a bilateral relationship, Peters who has been accompanied by a large and diverse business delegation, is keen to get India to open up its agriculture market for New Zealand. India and New Zealand last held talks on a trade agreement back in 2010. Peters said he was here to restart that dialogue. “We have been aspiring for that bilateral deal for 10 years. But we respect India’s decision.”

Could New Zealand be the next entrant into the Indo-Pacific universe? “It’s an emerging concept and putting flesh and shape around this concept is what we’re keen to have a discussion on. If you look at it, we’re at one end of the Indo-Pacific, down in the South Pacific. India’s at the other end. But there are a lot of areas where the promotion of values and institutions, peace and security is fundamental to the health and stability of the region. We don’t have to go too far to point out the areas of trans-national competition that we have as two countries.” New Zealand, like India, he said, regards ASEAN as central to the Indo-Pacific strategy.

With close relations with China, how does New Zealand regard the Asian hegemon? “We have our eyes wide open about what we’re dealing with. We cooperate with China as much as we can. There are Lots of reasons for us to press on. Where we disagree we have to be frank and disagree, bearing in mind that with respect, the differences can become a pathway to compromise and understanding.” Despite such close ties, though, New Zealand has blocked its 5G market to China and Huawei. “Bear in mind that our law passed by the previous government dates back to 2013. In short, no PM or cabinet minister can change it – it’s a decision made by the oversight body, in this case the GCSP, when applications come in. Which is to say they have to commit to the laws of the government. But they have to satisfy the criteria set out in the legislation seven years ago before they can proceed further.”

How has New Zealand dealt with terrorism in the post Christchurch attack era? “The reality is that the appalling attack on humanity in our country happened by the intersection of an outsider. We have a commission of inquiry into the event. In the meantime, we have communicated and discussed with other countries on the importance of sharing information. Because the particularity of this sort of terrorism is that its under the radar, often undetected, festering away in undiscovered environments. That needs more surveillance to look for those trigger points that IT and other modern tools can investigate, provided we can put resources into that. We need to work with other countries, and help other countries. But I think our political systems are way behind technological advances.”