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Don't wait for FTA before acting on India, says India-NZ business council chair

New Zealand companies looking to do business in India should move beyond a mutual love of cricket and not wait for a free-trade agreement before seeking opportunities in the fast-growing Indian economy, says Sunil Kaushal, chairman of the India-New Zealand Business Council.

"While much of the focus is on the prospect for a free trade agreement with India, waiting for its conclusion before acting risks missing the boat," Kaushal said in a statement ahead of the council's second India-New Zealand Investment Summit in Auckland on March 13.

The one-day summit will see a 40-strong delegation of senior Indian business people in Auckland for the event, including Nandan Nilekani, co-founder of software giant Infosys, Reuben Abraham, chief executive of the influential IFDC Institute think-tank, and Jaya Kumar, chief executive of animated films firm Toonz, which is establishing operations in New Zealand.

The two countries were "natural allies", said Abraham in a statement on the summit, which has sold out and will be addressed by a range of government ministers, including Prime Minister John Key. The two countries had common interests that "start with cricket and a shared language, but ought to be much more substantive."

While negotiations for a bilateral FTA with India began in 2011, they stalled under the previous Indian government and were revived only last November during a trade mission to lndia led by Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy, with the 10th round of negotiations between trade officials concluding last week.

Two-way trade between the two countries is relatively small, at around $1.1 billion, making India New Zealand's 15th largest trading partner, despite having a population almost as large as that of China, which is New Zealand's largest trading partner at over $20 billion, following explosive growth in two-way trade since the signing of an FTA in 2008.

However, India's democratic and protectionist traditions, along with a large domestic dairy sector, make it a more difficult prospect for FTA negotiations.

Kaushal warns too that New Zealand firms wanting to do business in India should not be over-reliant on a mutual love of cricket to open doors to commercial opportunities.

"While the Cricket World Cup is the reason we are holding the summit now, one of the themes for this meeting is the urgent opportunity for New Zealand and India to move to a much deeper bilateral trade and investment relationship."

(BusinessDesk is media partner for the 2015 India-New Zealand Business Summit.)