Time to outgrow frog-in-the-well Kiwi mindset

By Dev Nadkarni

It was refreshing to see Prime Minister John Key determined not to let ideology get in the way of pragmatism in the best interests of New Zealand during his state visit to India last week.

It is easy to miss the wood for the trees when one looks at the fast changing world through the rose tinted glasses of twentieth century ideology, like some Kiwis – including those in the media – do.

While no one discounts the importance of standing one’s ground as regards one’s beliefs and values, it is rather naïve to jeopardise hard to come by economic opportunities under the false notion that doing business with nations that xo not share our world view compromises our values.

Mr Key regularly fielded questions from New Zealand media about doing business with India while it continued to refuse to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

New Zealand’s stand on matters nuclear is well known in the world and has won it some respect, while also icing its relationship with countries like the United States over the years, which is only now beginning to thaw. This change of heart is happening purely in the interest of geopolitical strategy – again, an instance of pragmatism taking precedence over ideology.

In daily media briefings during the India visit, the Prime Minister explained that New Zealand would continue to reiterate its anti-nuclear stance at all international platforms including his diplomatic meetings in India and during bilaterals but added that it was important not to let that get in the way of doing business with the second fastest growing economy in the world.

The stand that some in the New Zealand media took during a visit to India with former Prime Minister Helen Clark is a classic case of missing the wood for the trees. Rather than focus on the opportunities available to New Zealand technology companies to team up with Indian engineering talent, they chose to criticise Ms Clark for visiting a company that was involved in designing some components for India’s nuclear power set up as a peripheral ancillary supplier. So very 1970s.

We can see where Mr Key is coming from when he says a “twenty first century perspective” is needed to deal with these issues. Just as in human relationships, there has to be a sense of give and take in relationships between nations, if they are to work together for mutual benefit. Even the best of friends differ in their points of view and beliefs but they rarely let those differences come in the way of the relationship they share.

The Prime Minister was also disappointed at criticism in the New Zealand media for having travelled with his entourage and delegation of 28 businesspeople from New Zealand in a Royal New Zealand Air Force jet. The Prime Ministerial entourage was travelling at the invitation of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The Indian government also accorded the trip the status of a state visit, signaling the importance it places on its developing a closer relationship with New Zealand.

It was only in the fitness of things that the entourage flew in a state plane rather than a commercial service. If costs were an issue, it must be mentioned that the visit was by no means a freebie to accompanying New Zealand media and the business delegation. Though the flights were discounted considerably, the media and business paid for their stay and local transport in India.

On the other hand, the Indian government spent far more in terms of money and resources on this state visit than New Zealand did. It assigned an Air India Airbus 320 to ferry a part of the entourage to Agra and Mumbai from New Delhi. It closed down roads in both cities to ensure smooth and safe passage to the prime ministerial motorcade. Mind you, the loss in productivity because of stalled traffic in a fast growing economic environment like India is by no means small.

In Agra, the Indian government closed the Taj Mahal to visitors to accommodate the New Zealand state visit at considerable inconvenience not just to locals but also international tourists who would have to wait several hours, undoubtedly earning opprobrium for the local tourism authorities.

Why did India have to do it for a small country like New Zealand, with which, even when it signs an FTA, the gains can’t be a patch on what it stands to gain from similar deals with resource rich, fast emerging economies in Eastern Europe and South America? None in India’s vibrant and live wire media asked this question of the Indian authorities.

The reason is partly cultural as well. “Treat a guest like God,” goes an ancient Sanskrit saying, which has found its way into almost all Indian languages. But more than that, India understands the imperatives of doing business internationally and increasingly engaging with the world’s countries – no matter how big or small – better than to let ideology and petty mindedness to get in the way.

The key to doing business with India successfully and hitching the New Zealand economy to the Indian juggernaut is to accept that India is different, it has a range of problems – many of them unpalatable, even abhorrent – and you simply can’t wish them away. But if you learn to accept them and work around them, there are overwhelming positives about this extraordinary subcontinent that can bring the most handsome of rewards.

Sir Ken Stevens of one of New Zealand’s most successful global companies, Glidepath, admits that he at first believed he could never do business in India. Today, it is one of his biggest markets for airport baggage handling systems as India emerges as the world’s largest aviation market.

We need to look outside our cosy little well at the bottom of the world. The fast growing Indian economy may well be the apocryphal princess waiting with pursed lips poised for the kiss that’ll leapfrog us into princes of wealth.

With last week’s state visit, I suspect we’ve caught the princess’ eye.

First appeared in Indian Weekender, July 2011

It was refreshing to see Prime Minister John Key determined not to let ideology get in the way of pragmatism in the best interests of New Zealand during his state visit to India last week.

It is easy to miss the wood for the trees when one looks at the fast changing world through the rose tinted glasses of twentieth century ideology, like some Kiwis – including those in the media – do.

While no one discounts the importance of standing one’s ground as regards one’s beliefs and values, it is rather naïve to jeopardise hard to come by economic opportunities under the false notion that doing business with nations that xo not share our world view compromises our values.

Mr Key regularly fielded questions from New Zealand media about doing business with India while it continued to refuse to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

New Zealand’s stand on matters nuclear is well known in the world and has won it some respect, while also icing its relationship with countries like the United States over the years, which is only now beginning to thaw. This change of heart is happening purely in the interest of geopolitical strategy – again, an instance of pragmatism taking precedence over ideology.

In daily media briefings during the India visit, the Prime Minister explained that New Zealand would continue to reiterate its anti-nuclear stance at all international platforms including his diplomatic meetings in India and during bilaterals but added that it was important not to let that get in the way of doing business with the second fastest growing economy in the world.

The stand that some in the New Zealand media took during a visit to India with former Prime Minister Helen Clark is a classic case of missing the wood for the trees. Rather than focus on the opportunities available to New Zealand technology companies to team up with Indian engineering talent, they chose to criticise Ms Clark for visiting a company that was involved in designing some components for India’s nuclear power set up as a peripheral ancillary supplier. So very 1970s.

We can see where Mr Key is coming from when he says a “twenty first century perspective” is needed to deal with these issues. Just as in human relationships, there has to be a sense of give and take in relationships between nations, if they are to work together for mutual benefit. Even the best of friends differ in their points of view and beliefs but they rarely let those differences come in the way of the relationship they share.

The Prime Minister was also disappointed at criticism in the New Zealand media for having travelled with his entourage and delegation of 28 businesspeople from New Zealand in a Royal New Zealand Air Force jet. The Prime Ministerial entourage was travelling at the invitation of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The Indian government also accorded the trip the status of a state visit, signaling the importance it places on its developing a closer relationship with New Zealand.

It was only in the fitness of things that the entourage flew in a state plane rather than a commercial service. If costs were an issue, it must be mentioned that the visit was by no means a freebie to accompanying New Zealand media and the business delegation. Though the flights were discounted considerably, the media and business paid for their stay and local transport in India.

On the other hand, the Indian government spent far more in terms of money and resources on this state visit than New Zealand did. It assigned an Air India Airbus 320 to ferry a part of the entourage to Agra and Mumbai from New Delhi. It closed down roads in both cities to ensure smooth and safe passage to the prime ministerial motorcade. Mind you, the loss in productivity because of stalled traffic in a fast growing economic environment like India is by no means small.

In Agra, the Indian government closed the Taj Mahal to visitors to accommodate the New Zealand state visit at considerable inconvenience not just to locals but also international tourists who would have to wait several hours, undoubtedly earning opprobrium for the local tourism authorities.

Why did India have to do it for a small country like New Zealand, with which, even when it signs an FTA, the gains can’t be a patch on what it stands to gain from similar deals with resource rich, fast emerging economies in Eastern Europe and South America? None in India’s vibrant and live wire media asked this question of the Indian authorities.

The reason is partly cultural as well. “Treat a guest like God,” goes an ancient Sanskrit saying, which has found its way into almost all Indian languages. But more than that, India understands the imperatives of doing business internationally and increasingly engaging with the world’s countries – no matter how big or small – better than to let ideology and petty mindedness to get in the way.

The key to doing business with India successfully and hitching the New Zealand economy to the Indian juggernaut is to accept that India is different, it has a range of problems – many of them unpalatable, even abhorrent – and you simply can’t wish them away. But if you learn to accept them and work around them, there are overwhelming positives about this extraordinary subcontinent that can bring the most handsome of rewards.

Sir Ken Stevens of one of New Zealand’s most successful global companies, Glidepath, admits that he at first believed he could never do business in India. Today, it is one of his biggest markets for airport baggage handling systems as India emerges as the world’s largest aviation market.

We need to look outside our cosy little well at the bottom of the world. The fast growing Indian economy may well be the apocryphal princess waiting with pursed lips poised for the kiss that’ll leapfrog us into princes of wealth.

With last week’s state visit, I suspect we’ve caught the princess’ eye.

First appeared in Indian Weekender, July 2011

Pepper negotiations with soft power

By Dev Nadkarni

To western eyes since times immemorial, India is nothing if it is not a surfeit of emotions, a bundle of contradictions, a sensory overload, a functioning anarchy as someone rather pithily put it. Some are turned off by it at the very outset, others are curious enough to return and give it another go, while still others attain nirvana – both of the spiritual kind and more lately the delightfully delicious commercial kind.

Making sense of India can be a lifelong pursuit. Winning Indian hearts is comparatively easier. As Prime Minister John Key found out last week during his state visit. Throwing in Bollywood and cricket – India’s two greatest obsessions that have both turned out to be billion dollar money spinners for thousands of people – Mr Key and New Zealand were instant news in the country.

This was a great demonstration of leveraging New Zealand’s soft power. The concept of soft power is somewhat fuzzy and trying to put one’s finger on what exactly is New Zealand’s soft power would doubtless elicit a range of possibilities. But everyone agrees that New Zealand has a great positive brand that is instantly recognized anywhere in the world.

Friendly, clean and green, nice guys to have around, innovative, inventive, a nation that punches far above its weight in many areas of human endeavour – all hugely positive attributes. The Prime Minister reinforced that long held image of the average New Zealander during his engagements with a wide section of people in New Delhi and Mumbai.

It is now a question of blending that niceness with the harder realities of negotiating the remaining rounds of the proposed Free Trade Agreement. Having gained experience of going through all the hoops of the FTA with China, New Zealand is better positioned to negotiate such deals.

But dealing with India will undoubtedly be easier because of a number of reasons at least procedurally – we speak the same language, have the same legal systems born out of the British system, share a common colonial legacy and have a wider range of common business interests.

None of that, however, guarantees a smooth run up to the FTA, which everyone likes to believe will be done, dusted and signed by the end of the first quarter of next year. Though the Prime Minister’s cricket and Bollywood diplomacy would help oil the wheels of the deal to an extent and help put smiles around the negotiating tables, it will need hard nosed pragmatism on the part of both parties to yield to the other as much as practicable without compromising core interests before the deal is a goer.

There will be sensitive issues to be skirted or ironed out – some of these will be perceptional, as in the case of agriculture and dairy. It will be important for New Zealand to emphasise that these will ultimately work to the benefit of Indian farmers and dairymen, since what is being proposed is largely of a non-competing nature.

Logic almost always goes for a toss when politics enters. This is where emotions kick in and that’s when it all gets irrational. Agriculture and dairy are highly emotional issues in India and must be handled carefully. That’s where perhaps New Zealand can bring its soft power into play and demonstrate how its innovativeness and productivity expertise can help Indian dairy farmers and agriculturists.

That would be a good way for New Zealand to worm its way into the agricultural sector rather than stick to more conventional approaches centred on tariff negotiations.

Going by last week’s visit, there is little doubt that New Zealand has changed its approach toward India and has learned the art of mixing a bit of soft power with emotion and passion while keeping a firm hold on hard nosed business imperatives. It is a strategy that is all to the good.

First appeared in Indian Weekender, July 2011

Spotlight on islands at Rugby World Cup

By Dev Nadkarni

What would New Zealand rugby be without its star players of Pacific Island origin? For decades now, the Pacific Islands have provided Kiwi rugby teams with a continuous stream of talent that has given them an undeniable cutting edge. This has often come at great cost to the national teams of the players’ countries of origin.

Besides, New Zealand has strong historic ties with the region and an involvement that has been long and deep enough for a United States diplomat to have publicly said that the US needed New Zealand’s eyes to view the Pacific while mapping out its geopolitical strategy in the region.

The decision to set aside resources and train the arc lights on the islands in the run up to what is billed to be the biggest ever event hosted in New Zealand, has understandably come with enthusiasm from the government. The plans it has laid out to showcase the islands go well beyond promoting them as pretty and exotic tourist destinations – for the first time they are being packaged as attractive investment options.

Rarely if ever before have the islands collectively had the opportunity to get so much of the world’s attention all in one place at one big event in the region. The Shanghai expo last year did afford the islands a similar opportunity, with a sprawling pavilion – reportedly the third biggest at the show – but that was outside the region and catered to a far more diverse audience. It is also debatable what tangible benefits the islands gained from that participation, which highlighted mainly their tourism and cultural aspects.

After months long debate on “party central” – a venue that would be a magnet for the more than 100,000 visitors (30,000 each from Europe and Australia; 5000 from South Africa; 7000 from the Americas) expected to descend on Auckland during the games held in the city, the government finally decided on a huge structure on the city’s picturesque waterfront.

An innovatively designed structure made of steel, wood and PVC in the shape of a long white cloud (which is what Aotearoa, New Zealand’s Maori name means) is in an advanced stage of completion at the city’s Queen’s Wharf. Called “The Cloud”, the 3400 square metre covered area has the capacity to comfortably hold 6000 people. The Cloud is expected to become a major hub of activity, with a full programme of events scheduled for the 45 days of the tournament.

Last month, New Zealand’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and Rugby World Cup Minister Murray McCully revealed plans for a “Pacifica showcase” planned around the event. A team headed by the New Zealand government co-funded Pacific Cooperation Foundation has been tasked with coordinating the programme.

Pacific Cooperation Foundation Chairman Peter Kiely revealed that The Cloud’s 443 square metre atrium, would as part of the programme, showcase cultural performances by Pacific Island artistes from across the region. Areas adjacent to the atrium will also display products and services from around the islands region, during the time allocated to the region (a range of other displays and programmes have been planned for the duration of the tournament).

This programme will coincide with two important events for the Pacific Islands. One is the fortieth annual Pacific Islands Leaders Forum, which is being held in the week of the tournament’s kick off (the opening match between the All Blacks and Tonga). It will be held in the special area set aside in The Cloud for VIP functions and events, a mezzanine area that can house some 300 people and has with full catering facilities.

The second event is the “Oceans of Opportunity” investment summit that is expected to see more than one hundred investors from New Zealand, Australia, the Asia Pacific region besides China and India.

Forum organisation Pacific Islands Trade & Invest’s New Zealand and Australia offices have put together the programme for the investment summit, the second of its kind, after the successful and well attended inaugural one held last year in Sydney’s Darling Harbour.

“The one day Oceans of Opportunity summit will showcase the range of opportunities available for trade and investment in the resource-rich region while helping interested investors establish the next steps toward following up on exploring their chosen investment areas,” says Pacific Islands Trade & Invest’s New Zealand Trade Commissioner Adam Denniss. The summit is being held at The Cloud on September 6.

The summit brings together key senior officials, ministers and even heads of governments face to face with potential investors from all over the world. Unlike other such summits, this one is unique in that nearly all the islands’ leaders will be in Auckland at the time. “The chance to interact with key Pacific Leaders is a crucial one,” Denniss says.

“A tradeshow showcasing potential Pacific Island investment avenues will also be part of the summit, as will a publication listing and outlining a selection of the best investment projects throughout the Pacific Islands,” he adds. The offices have already compiled an exhaustive list of bankable projects for investment throughout the region. The list will be distributed to those attending the Oceans of Opportunity summit.

New Zealand government agencies as well as Pacific Islands Trade & Invest’s offices in China and Japan are in various stages of coordinating participation from around the region and beyond. Minister McCully is already in the midst of a fairly extensive programme of touring the islands to discuss how best they could leverage this rare opportunity just before one of the world’s most watched sports events. He visited Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands in June and will travel to the Cook Islands, Samoa, Tonga and Niue this month.

The minister said this milestone fortieth Forum summit would be made even more significant because of the high attendance of global agencies and development partners for the Post Forum Dialogue, which he said would see a large contingent from the United Nations, the European Union and major nations around the world, whose senior staff would be here because of the event coinciding with the Rugby World Cup.

This is an opportunity the islands cannot afford to miss. They have long been projected as great tourist destinations but little else. This is the first time that there is a serious effort to add their investment potential. The islands as destinations to live and work more than just spend a holiday is as irresistible as a dip in the azure waters of the lagoon on a hot summer day.

First appeared in Islands Business, July 2011