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India’s minister of external affairs, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, is welcomed to Auckland at mihi whakatau led by tangata whenua and Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta.
Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, India’s first foreign minister to visit New Zealand since 2001, has issued a plea to the Government on behalf of pre-pandemic students who couldn’t return to their studies.
He directly criticised New Zealand’s immigration rules, saying they had become unfair since the country re-opened its borders.
During a joint press conference with Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta in Auckland, Jaishankar said one of their main discussions had been the plight of students who started studying in New Zealand before the pandemic, and have been unable to renew their visas to finish studying.
He said it was only fair that international students be allowed to finish their studies: “I urge a fairer and more sympathetic treatment for them.”
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Mahuta noted his concerns, but said it was a matter for Immigration Minister Michael Wood to resolve.
“The immigration settings have changed partly as a result of Covid,” she said.
She also pointed out that most New Zealand-based students were required to study online during the pandemic, and could also not return to in-person classes.
In 2010, New Zealand and India signed an education agreement – with then education minister Anne Tolley saying it would be a major boost for New Zealand’s education providers.
No progress on India-NZ FTA
Mahuta also issued a frank assessment of the progress of free trade negotiations with India, which started in 2010. Those negotiations stalled in 2016, after a meeting in Delhi the previous year.
She said this visit did not indicate those negotiations were rekindling.
“A free trade agreement at this time is not a priority for New Zealand or India.”
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs had focused on the high agricultural tariffs to trade in India and increasing access for the export of raw materials to manufacturers in India. For instance, the tariff for dairy exports to India sits around 30%.
Jaishankar said they had discussed other areas for economic collaboration, but agreed that an FTA was not on the agenda.
“Perhaps the best way of pursuing economic opportunities right now was to encourage more business collaborations,” he said.
Mahuta named the digital economy and green-business as areas where there could be greater cooperation.
“I think we have identified that there are niche areas where we can absolutely derive mutual benefit,” she said.
India is the world’s fifth-largest economy, and has the second-largest population. It is home to 1.4 billion people.
Jaishankar was welcomed to Auckland with a pōwhiri at the War Memorial Museum on Thursday. He would stay in the country until next week, with plans to visit local Indian communities and open a new high commission in Wellington.
He said he hoped to meet with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at the Kiwi-Indian Hall of Fame Awards in Auckland.
The strong Indian population in New Zealand was one of the greatest connectors between the two countries, he said.
“They have done so much to be a living bridge between us,” he said.
He said better access for Indian students to New Zealand, and a better treatment of them by Immigration New Zealand, would only strengthen those bonds.