23 May 2023

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins to take up offer to visit India and talk free trade

8:59 am on 23 May 2023
Chris Hipkins

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins was invited to India by Prime Minister Narenda Modi. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins will be taking up an offer from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to visit the country and talk about a potential free trade agreement.

Hipkins has returned from Papua New Guinea where he met with leaders from the Indo-Pacific region, the United States Secretary of State and the Indian Prime Minister at the United States-Pacific Summit.

Hipkins told Morning Report he will not be able to get to India before the election but Trade Minister Damien O'Connor would visit pre-election.

"I think there are opportunities for us to continue to broaden and deepening our trading relationship," Hipkins said.

But, he said, "India obviously has had bottom lines previously around trade".

"You don't achieve a trade agreement simply by telling another country you're going to have a trade agreement with them."

Other countries that had secured a trade deal with India had done so off the back of a long relationship and it usually excluded the primary sector, he said.

The United States and Papua New Guinea signed a Defence Cooperation Agreement at the summit, allowing the US almost unfettered access to PNG airspace and territorial waters.

Hipkins said there was a longstanding relationship between the two nations.

"When it comes to Pacific politics, ultimately we have to realise these are autonomous countries and they make their own decisions around the international relationships that they want to have."

Last year Solomon Islands signed a security deal with China, which caused disquiet among Australian, New Zealand and US governments.

Hipkins said one of the differences between the two situations was that the deal between Solomon Islands and China was not transparent.

Papua New Guinea was focused on making sure it could respond in disasters where it needs military presence as support and protecting fisheries from illegal fishing - objectives New Zealand supports, he said.

"We have a long-standing existing relationship with the United States when it comes to the military and they're more predictable, we understand what their motivations are, they are quite transparent with us and so we do know what we're dealing with there."

Listen to The India Dilemma

Ask if New Zealand needs to pick a side, Hipkins said people oversimplified the situation far too regularly.

"New Zealand will continue to trade with China and will continue to have a relationship with China. China is actually a really important relationship for New Zealand and that's not going to change."

National Party agriculture and trade spokesperson Todd McClay told Morning Report news Hipkins has been invited to India was a good start but a commitment from both sides that they would reengage negotiations was needed.

"My worry on behalf of New Zealand exporters is we're seeing countries we compete against starting to get trade deals with India - Australia was one, Canada's about to sign one, the UK has all but concluded..." McClay said.

"For India, some of their difficult issues are around agriculture, of course the prime minister said it was important any trade deal includes agriculture.

"Unless New Zealand and New Zealand government is pushing for New Zealand interests overseas, we don't get anything at all."

McClay said he thinks the government has changed language it uses when speaking about India because National has been putting the pressure on.

  • Chris Hipkins to meet Indian PM, Pacific leaders, US Secretary of State at summit
  • Watch: PM Chris Hipkins holds a media stand-up in Papua New Guinea
  • Concerns in Papua New Guinea over framing of US security pact
  • Government urged to focus on growing trade with India
  • Primary industry reps to visit India with hopes of trade deals