The 30-minute Redwoods Treewalk in Rotorua, New Zealand on 23 suspension bridges meandering between 22 trees bestows moments of sheer bliss in the midst of wilderness. Almost as if the tall and majestic trees guard you while you steal priceless moments with nature. A truly unique and beautiful experience. Hope this can be created in India as well, perhaps in the North East.
A belief that people are destined to meet in the world and the world is smaller than we think, aptly describes my visit to New Zealand; which seemed almost on the other end of the planet. Shri Amitabh Kant CEO, National Institution for Transforming India visited New Zealand as Sir Edmund Hillary Fellow in May 2017. It was evident from the warmth and elaborate arrangements that his visit on the invitation of the Prime Minister was of great importance. The Tricolour was flying at the Parliament Buildings in Wellington. The highpoint was CEO’s half-hour open and candid meeting with the New Zealand Prime Minister at Beehive (Parliament Buildings shaped like a skep). Prime Minister was impressed with the scale, speed and reach of India’s economic transformation. He called upon the CEO to ‘leave behind a big list of things to do in a small and easy way before he left New Zealand’.
The lunch hosted by the senior-most of the three Indian MPs in New Zealand Parliament was attended by three Ministers and six MPs. The MP accompanied CEO for most of his official engagements with the top leadership of New Zealand. The Minister of Trade hosted the CEO for half a day in Rotorua.
Witnessing the traditional Maori ceremony ‘Powhiri’ at Wellington, which remains the centrepiece of any formal welcome even in these modern times brought home the fact that New Zealand has not stopped learning from its indigenous people. It was a warm and lively welcome - the cheerful singing with perfectly synchronised body movements, singing the chorus of the answer song, ‘Tutira mai nga iwi, Tatau tatau e’ (come together as one) and ending with ‘hongi’ or pressing noses to symbolise beginning of friendly ties.
Known to be technologically advanced, financially endowed and economically independent, New Zealanders are warm-hearted, exceptionally unique and remarkably talented. New Zealand offers its people superior quality of life, gender parity and assured personal rights, of which the remainder of the world is envious of.
It is impressive that New Zealand ranks first in the Ease of Doing Business. With a global reputation for innovation and ingenuity, New Zealand is well positioned across a number of global indices _World Prosperity Index (1st), Global Creativity Index (3rd), Global Innovation index (5th in Asia & Oceania), Developing and Deploying Talent (6th)…..the list is endless.
New Zealand has been nimble and quick to develop and adopt new technologies. The impact of cutting edge innovation is visible in almost all sectors. Advances in health technology in New Zealand are offering smart solutions in clinical science to meet global health care challenges such as breast cancer, apnea or wound care/orthodontics.
New Zealand’s expertise in clean energy has spawned technological breakthroughs. Renewable energy accounts for 80% of electricity. Innovation is poised to increase uptake to 90% renewable electricity by 2025. Having built the first wind farm in Antarctica, New Zealand has 19 wind farms. It was a scenic delight to see wind turbines set against the blue waters of the harbour spin power to countless homes in Wellington. As world’s 4th largest leader in geothermal energy, New Zealand has perfected methods to use this resource in exciting new ways. This ingenuity was showcased on a walk along the geothermal geyser in Te Puia and the visit to Miraka in Rotorua– a dairy processing plant run on geothermal energy.
India and New Zealand relationship is poised for expansion with growing trade and investment, expanding scientific and technological cooperation, productive partnerships in the primary and energy sectors, intensified education, tourism, sporting and people to people exchanges. Given India’s strong economic trajectory and potential to be a leading power, partnerships can achieve quantum jump across various fields.
Technological partnerships, joint innovative projects and learning best practices provide huge opportunities for India-New Zealand cooperation. It is evident that New Zealand can provide innovative assistance and advanced technologies to achieve our own domestic renewable energy targets. New Zealand companies could also co-innovate with Indian companies for harnessing health IT.
New Zealand commands a global reputation for high quality food through stringent food safety standards. Recognised as a food provider, 80% of its food production is exported to feed millions globally. New Zealand exports kiwifruit, apples and seafood to India as well. Indian farmers can usher in big productivity gains, for instance ten-fold increase in apple and 50 times increase in kiwifruit yields by learning from New Zealand’s farming practices. As world’s largest dairy exporter, sharing of New Zealand’s knowledge and capacity can step up India’s dairy production and processing capacities besides providing cost effective marketing, cold chain infrastructure and waste management solutions.
Practical lessons can be drawn from the over-arching effects-based Resource Management Act of New Zealand. This legislation facilitates harvesting of plantation forests on the grant of ‘Resource Consent’. Plantation forests have distinct features such as – high level of private ownership (96%), no restriction on export of logs or manufactured wood products from planation species and major share in timber exports (99%). Bilateral dialogue to draw the best practices can go a long way in reducing India’s timber imports. Building institutional links with Scion, a forestry R&D Crown entity engaged in revolutionising the value chain from forest genetics to sustainable wood products would be beneficial.
India and New Zealand have strong economic synergies in commerce and connectivity. An early and balanced FTA would further strengthen this strong and robust relationship. The CEO gave a lucid elucidation on the opportunities in India and specifically New Zealand’s relationship with India developing in the near future as India technologically and digitally leapfrogs into a higher growth orbit.
Bold reforms and unprecedented steps have been taken with meticulous planning and impeccable timing to prepare India for the ‘giant leap forward’ as astutely articulated by the CEO. Qualities of ‘Kaitiaki’ meaning care for everything for generations, ingenuity in everything they do and integrity, ‘we do the right thing, because it’s the right thing to do’ are deeply ingrained in the New Zealanders. Similarly these are also imbibed in the CEO. Optimism, confidence and hope – come to mind as I recall the CEO’s numerous meetings with the top leadership of New Zealand, public addresses to leading CEOs and Indian diaspora and engagements with print, radio and social media. His Facebook Live interview made 2.5 million impressions. The CEO’s candour, charm, enthusiasm, and passion captivated the audiences and won so many friends for India.
The CEO eloquently recounted the massive transformation of the Indian economy being driven by the Honourable Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi ji. With the focus on giving greater impetus to manufacturing and start-ups, pushing for innovative and sustainable urbanisation, up-grading infrastructure and skilling youth to realise their potential, there are promising openings. In-fact New Zealand companies can co-associate, co-invest and co-innovate in Flagship programmes like Digital India, Start Up India and Skill India. It is important to move forward and produce ‘win-win’ outcomes.
As India makes a quantum jump to less cash society, New Zealand’s journey in achieving one of the world’s lowest proportions of cash to GDP ratio can give useful insights. It embraced EFTPOS (electronic funds transfer at point of sale) in 1980s and continues to develop disruptive technologies such as accounting software, mobile commerce tools etc.
As a hub of digital innovation, it has developed ingenious concepts to produce ground-breaking visual reality games such as Robot Unicorn Attack 2 etc., 360 degree holographic virtual reality experience ‘wrapping action around the viewer’, Nadia ‘virtual nurse’ using artificial intelligence etc. Back home, creativity and digital revolution can connect the future for Indian start-ups and SMEs and convert job-seekers into job-creators.
A visit to Weta Digital, a visual effects facility and Park Road Post Production, sound and picture finishing studio in Wellington, or ‘Wellywood’, gave a glimpse into the creative world of film talent. Sir Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings and Hobbit Trilogies was based here. Weta Digital has put some of the best digital characters like Smaug, Gollum and Caesar on screen. New Zealand’s spectacular filming locations and world-class expertise in special effects, prosthetics, make-up etc., holds great promise for creating Hindi film blockbusters.
More physical, specifically direct air connectivity and institutional linkages are necessary for strengthening relations. Indian civil aviation is set to become the 3rd largest market in the world. Leveraging New Zealand’s expertise in infrastructure, capacity building, maintenance, repair, software, and logistics will prove to be very helpful. It is impressive that Air New Zealand was ranked as the Airline of the Year in 2014, 2015 and 2016. Recognised for its efficiency and innovativeness, it continues to take steps towards a low carbon future by targeting conversion of its ground fleet to electric vehicles.
Another area of complementarity is education where increasing student flows and building institutional partnerships can bring rich dividends. India’s vast pool of skilled professionals and New Zealand’s capacities for world-class higher education, skill development, vocational training and research in dairy, agriculture, food safety, environment, innovation etc., complement each other. It was heartening to see Indian students at Auckland University happily share their experiences. Their enthusiasm was well rewarded by the CEO’s inspirational talk, graciously handed out with words of great wisdom, hope and encouragement.
There are limitless possibilities in the booming travel and tourism industry. As the second fastest growing outbound market after China, Indian tourists visiting New Zealand are expected to increase with approximately 1,80,000 strong Indian diaspora also contributing to this growth.
While New Zealand has ingeniously built the 100% Pure New Zealand campaign, it is strategising to become world’s most authentic destination. There was keen interest to learn from the CEO’s rich experience of pioneering the ‘Incredible India’ campaign. The CEO provided an in-depth narrative on positioning India as an experiential and world class tourist destination in the midst of global events and marketing challenges discouraging travel and tourism.
There was abundance of spectacular landscape and scenic beauty, whether the ferry ride to the picturesque Waikehe Islands, walk along the water-front at Wellington ‘world’s most liveable city’, travel by road in Rotorua through green rolling farmland with sheep and cows as far as the eye can see or the truly experiential evening at Mitai. It was a treat to see the ‘haka’ dance involving aggressive postures, grace and beauty of Maori women in this Maori village interspersed by a guided tour to the forest to see Maori men dressed in traditional attire paddle a canoe down the stream, the crystal clear waters of the Fairy Spring, glow-worms shimmering in the night and ending with a traditional hangi meal consisting of chicken and delicious vegetables infused with a smoky fragrance pulled out from the earth. The climax was the CEO’s fascinating speech in Hindi offering peace, unity and goodwill winning resounding applause and over-shadowing all other events of the visit.
There were mixed feelings while leaving the beautiful and enchanting ‘Paradise of the Pacific’ _ glad to be heading home with the downside of saying goodbye to people with whom we had made incredible bonds of friendship and who had tirelessly worked to make the trip so successful and comfortable. “Whakawhetai ki a koe” (thank you) New Zealand! _ the fascinating abode of beautiful spaces, beautiful minds and beautiful hearts!