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‘India and New Zealand have a shared heritage’

Statesman News Service | New Delhi |

High Commissioner of New Zealand to India Joanna Kempkers hails from Christ Church and graduated from the University of Canterbury. She has had a 23-year illustrious career with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade or MFAT, with postings in Paris, Fiji and Cook Islands. Her most recent assignment was as Chief of Protocol for MFAT. In an interview to Sarah Berry and Debdeep Mukherjee, she talks about the various aspects of relations between India and her country, how effective Bollywood heart-throb Siddharth Malhotra has been as the brand ambassador for Tourism New Zealand and her fondness for India and its rich culture. Excerpts:

What are the USPs of New Zealand which make it an attractive destination for students and professionals alike?

To begin with, it is important to reiterate that links between both countries date back to as early as 1813, when the first person of Indian origin is said to have settled in New Zealand! Education is an important cornerstone of this long-standing relationship, with almost 30,000 students travelling to my country in 2016, thereby making it the second largest international student group. This is chiefly because of the safe and welcoming environment provided, besides an education system that encourages inventive thinking, applied learning approach and exposure to reallife scenarios making students 'work-ready'. All of New Zealand's universities are ranked in the top 3 percent worldwide. Apart from this, it is our constant endeavour to improve our application procedures.

How do you see the bilateral relations between both countries, especially in the field of trade?Additionally,what doyou think can be done to enhance relations between both countries across diverse fields?

Two-way trade remains below potential. A free trade relationship between both countries would surely go a long way in enhancing the commercial capacities. Trade between both countries is estimated at $2.5 billion, with more than half thereof being services trade. New Zealand has world-leading expertise across many sectors of interest to India such as agriculture, education, tourism, just to name a few. Our experience is that we will see a lift in the willingness of New Zealand companies to partner, invest and share expertise following the conclusion of a high-quality, comprehensive free trade agreement that provides them with secure market access, greater certainty on costs and stability of regulation. We have been negotiating a bilateral Free Trade Agreement since 2010 and both countries are members of RCEP or Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership negotiation.

Why are high-level visits between India and New Zealand far and few?

I do not feel that this is the case. President Mukherjee visited New Zealand in 2016 and our Prime Minister also visited India last year. Besides this, the Minister of State Mr VK Singh also visited New Zealand a few weeks ago.

One of the tools of promoting the people-to-people connect is tourism. Could you throw some light on the steps being taken to promote outbound tourism from India to New Zealand?

Through the 100 per cent Pure New Zealand campaign, Tourism New Zealand has been promoting tourism since many years, evolving into a respected tourism brand, taking the country's story to the consumers, travel fraternity and media. The latest addition to this campaign is 'Where one journey leads to another', which focuses on exploring the relatively unexplored, besides the main cities. For example, this experience could include relaxing at Rotorua's Polynesian Spa to sampling fabulous local produce at Bay Islands farmers market! In 2015, Tourism New Zealand appointed Bollywood actor Siddharth Malhotra as its brand ambassador for India. His two visits to New Zealand generated almost 3,000 stories published across print, online, social media and TV channels. The tourism sector is one of the biggest export earners for New Zealand and India is one of the top 10 source markets for international tourists. For the year ending May 2017, holiday arrivals were up by 10.3 per cent.

India is seeking to join a reformed UN Security Council as a permanent member. What is New Zealand's view on India's candidature?

It is clear that the Security Council membership arrangement established in 1945, and adjusted in 1965, does not adequately represent today's geographic realities. New Zealand recently served as an elected member of the Security Council, so we saw this reality first- hand during 2015-16. We continue to reiterate our support for India's membership in a reformed Security Council.

Countries and cultures across the world see similarities in diversities. How do you see this apply to both countries?

Oh, there is a lot in common between both countries like the shared Commonwealth heritage and the language ~ English. Four per cent of New Zealand's population comprises of people of Indian origin. I, personally, have had a wonderful first five months in India celebrating Holi, Eid and other festivals. In fact, in my first week itself, I attended an Indian wedding, which was just like'my' Bollywood movie. I really look forward to many more rich cultural experiences during my tenure here.