Todd McClay 'doing everything possible' to get trade deal with India

New Zealand's Trade Minister says he's doing "everything possible" to strike a deal with India but is refusing to put a date on when negotiations could kick off.  

During the election campaign, Prime Minister Christopher Luxon made the ambitious target of achieving a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with India in three years, saying it's a major strategic priority and the "ultimate goal" for his Government.  

It comes as Trade Minister Todd McClay will travel to the World Trade Organisation's ministerial conference in Abu Dhabi, which is set to get underway next week.  

He will undertake a range of important bilateral meetings with 20 countries, including the US, European Union, India and the UK and assume the role of Vice Chair. 

India has been a big focus for the coalition Government with McClay travelling to India to meet with his counterpart just before Christmas. 

McClay joined AM on Thursday morning and was asked about what timeframe he expects an FTA to be locked in with India.  

The Trade Minister told the show he's still a "little way away" from being able to say exactly when negotiations might start and conclude but he has "some optimism".  

AM co-host Melissa Chan-Green asked McClay if he was confident he would be able to fulfil the Prime Minister's commitments of an FTA with India within three years.  

"We are doing everything possible to make sure that we do that, but we're going to make sure we also get a good deal for New Zealanders," he replied.  

"There is going to be a lot of travel to India. One of the things I think we've observed and it was pretty obvious when I was there, is that we haven't had the investment in that relationship away from trade over the last six years." 

He puts that down to several reasons, including the COVID-19 pandemic but added Australia was able to achieve an FTA during that period.  

But that deal didn't include dairy and would probably be a key component in any deal for New Zealand as the industry is one of Aotearoa's biggest exports. 

New Zealand's exports to India are worth NZ$1.1 billion (NZ$467 million in goods, NZ$633 million in services) with imports worth NZ$1 billion (NZ$878 million in goods, NZ$202 million in services), according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade website. 

Our key exports to India include logs and wood products, fruit and nuts, and education services and prior to COVID-19, this also included travel and education services.

McClay wouldn't say if it would be possible to do an FTA with India without dairy when asked on AM. 

"For us to do a trade deal with any country in the world, it has to be commercially meaningful and dairy is a very large part of our export profile," he told AM.  

"India knows about New Zealand exports and what we do. They've seen other deals. I've had a look at the Australian one, it's a good deal, but it probably isn't good enough for New Zealand to do and it'll be one of a number of things we'll have to talk about when we get to the stage of launching negotiations." 

Trade Minister Todd McClay has "some optimism" about trade deal with India.
Trade Minister Todd McClay has "some optimism" about trade deal with India. Photo credit: AM

The questions then turned to an article in the Indian Weekender with the headline "NZ's Record Migration Is Bad News For Indian Aspirants".  

New Zealand has seen a surge in migration in 2023, with our population growing at the fastest rate since 1946.  

Annual migration also hit its highest level on record with a net gain of 118,835 people in the September 2023 year.  

McClay was asked if stories in the Indian media about New Zealand's migration surge are a concern for him in terms of the relationship with India. 

"They're not a concern... what does give me concern though is the Indian government could sit there and wonder how we've got in the state that we are over the last six years," he told AM.  

"Where if somebody in India puts in an application to come and study in New Zealand or visit as a tourist, or just come and visit their family, that they wait months and months and months, sometimes more than six months and won't get an answer and that's the stuff we've got to fix." He told AM India is important for New Zealand as we've got a long history with them and it's up to us to put the "effort in to balance it out and treat the Indian system the same as we do other like-minded countries". 

Watch the full interview above.