Prime Minister John Key is predicting “an explosion of Indian tourists” with direct flights between Mumbai and Auckland about to take off.
Key landed in New Delhi overnight (NZ time) for the start of a three-day state visit to the sub-continent. He was met at the Indira Gandhi Airport by the Indian Minister of State for External Affairs E.A. Ahmed.
He is due to visit the Taj Mahal courtesy of an Indian air force plane this afternoon.
Tomorrow, Key will meet Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh where efforts to progress a free trade agreement will top the agenda.
“If we can get an FTA, it means jobs, it means higher incomes and better opportunities for New Zealanders,” Key said.
Key, who is also Tourism Minister, singled out a “very wealthy base” in Delhi and Mumbai as a potentially rich vein of visitors to New Zealand.
Last year, 30,000 Indian tourists had arrived.
“But it’s not going to be too long before these long-range aircraft fly direct from Mumbai to Auckland and when that happens, we’re going to see an explosion of Indian tourists out to New Zealand,” Key said.
India and New Zealand have agreed on an ambitious eight to ten month timeframe to try and conclude an FTA.
It is estimated that the deal would treble two-way trade between the countries up to more than $3 billion by 2014.
After four rounds of FTA talks, major obstacles in agricultural trade still lie ahead, but Key maintained India wanted a deal and that talks were going “quite well”.
“These things are always delicate, and as we know from the negotiations we’ve had with Korea, you can hit speed bumps along the way,” he said.
It will be Key’s second personal visit to India, following a 1995 trip to Bombay (now known as Mumbai) when he was an investment banker.
It will be his first visit to the Taj Mahal, however.
“We’re delighted that they asked us to go up there. I guess it’s one of the things that, for obvious reasons, they’re incredibly proud of,” he said.
The last visit by a New Zealand Prime Minister was when Helen Clark came in 2004.