National's Christopher Luxon joins the NZ-India Summit audience in limbering up with some mock yoga at Papatoetoe on Tuesday. Photo: Tim Murphy

National leader Christopher Luxon claims the Government has taken a negative and “very wet” approach to earning New Zealand money from the rest of the world – and he promises he and his ministers will “hustle” constantly overseas from day one in office.

“New Zealand needs to get its mojo back,” he said, claiming there is “a sense of decay” around our economy.

The Luxon hustle was a feature of his comments on Tuesday at an event to announce National would make a Free Trade Agreement with India a high strategic priority if elected.

New Zealand had been left behind by Australia and the UK, in achieving deals with India, and by the European Union in the process of pursuing one.

“I will not have New Zealand being left behind,” he said.

Christopher Luxon with trade spokesperson Todd McClay speaking to journalists at the India summit.  Photo: Tim Murphy

“Over the last six years, we’ve had a Government that has not put a lot of effort into the Indian relationship at all,” Luxon claimed, citing the Asian giant’s potential to be the world’s third largest economy by 2030, and its surpassing China as the most populous nation.

“It’s a function of us not doing the hustle and the effort.”

An India-NZ trade agreement and greater commercial engagement with the rest of the world would be high on his agenda if National won the election in October.

“It’s going to be a priority for me,” said the former Air New Zealand and Unilever consumer products executive. “Expect to see me there in my first year. Expect to see our foreign ministers and our trade ministers on the planes, 365 days a year, hustling, building business for New Zealand.

“The time for all this isolation and insular, sort-of inward thinking that’s been going on in New Zealand has to stop.”

Announcing the FTA commitment – which observers believe is at long odds given difficulties New Zealand has faced in the past over dairy access to India, and indications as late as a few months ago from New Delhi that no deal is on the horizon – Luxon emphasised his wider trade focus.

He didn’t address whether his party could consider an FTA shorn of dairy, advancing other sectors’ access to India but leaving aside a key National Party constituency.

“Our economy is sending us really clear signals. We have to grow the economy now, we have the worst current account deficit in the OECD and we have the risk of recession staying for longer.

“We are a country that only gets rich by getting out and trading and selling products and services to the world. And that’s something we have got to rediscover again.”

He told about 90 people at a National Party organised NZ-India summit at the Swaminarayan Complex at Papatoetoe, south Auckland, it was important there was goodwill on both sides.

“Doing a trade deal with India will not be easy. We know how difficult it is. It does not happen first time.”

Two-way trade between the countries had fallen since Labour took office in 2017, from a low $2.8 billion to $2.3 billion. “By comparison, two-way trade with China amounts to $30 billion.”

National held its summit at the Swaminarayan Complex in Papatoetoe.  Photo: Tim Murphy

 Asked why Luxon’s National thinks it could achieve something that eluded both this Labour Government and John Key’s administration, he returned to the lack of hustle.

“We’ve had a massive, inward-looking focus. We have been very negative, I think very wet.

“As a result, we’ve not been out in the world hustling. We are a country of five million in a world of eight billion and 195 other countries. We do well and get rich in this world by growing trade.

“We don’t get rich by selling stuff to each other.”

Luxon identified potential for his flying sales Cabinet in parts of the Americas, Asia and even getting more into Australia.

“We need our Prime Minister. We need our foreign minister and we need our trade ministers on the planes, out there hustling, doing the business for New Zealand.”

Luxon’s commercial roles at the multinational consumer products business Unilever saw him based in Sydney, London, Chicago and Toronto and he said he visited India multiple times to work with Hindustan Lever in that role and with Air India when leading Air New Zealand.

He said the latest International Monetary Fund and OECD assessments showed New Zealand was not paying its way in the world. “There’s been no urgency or focus from the Government on that.”

But he conceded the Indian external affairs minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar had indicated on a visit to Wellington in discussion with Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta that an FTA was not a priority.

National was not put off. Luxon’s own meeting with Jaishankar had been “discursive, broad”; the party and its trade spokesperson Todd McClay were committed to a deal.

“We’ve got to do what we do in commercial agreements. I’ve got a lot of experience in it. Todd has got a lot of experience.”

A sales hustle looms for the diplomatic circuit, should National form a government in six months.

Luxon, McClay and others will hope to dust off their passports and polish their white shoes.

Tim Murphy is co-editor of Newsroom. He writes about politics, Auckland, and media. Twitter: @tmurphynz

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