Nepal, Bangladesh Can Become Better Trade Partners

Bangladesh is a fast growing economy in the South Asian region. A nation with about 160 million people and a strong middle class, Bangladesh, which lies very close to Nepal, offers a good opportunity for Nepalese businessmen and entrepreneurs in the energy, trade, tourism, culture and many other sectors to reap good dividends from the close neighbour’s ever growing market potential. However, so far it is business persons and entrepreneurs from Bangladesh who have been taking benefits through their exports of products and services to Nepal. The energy hungry, fast growing Bangladesh will be requiring massive power in a few years’ time, and Nepal can benefit if it works to develop the hydro-power sector with an eye on its export to that country. Against this backdrop, The Rising Nepal’s Narayan Upadhyay talked with the Ambassador of Bangladesh to Nepal, Mashfee Binte Shams, on issues ranging from trade, power export, business and bilateral cooperation and partnership between the two nations and their people.
Excerpts: masheef

How do you assess the relationship between Nepal and Bangladesh?
The relationship between Nepal and Bangladesh is excellent. This relationship dates back centuries and is based on cultural, historical, linguistic and religious linkages. More recently, during our War of Liberation in 1971, the people and political leaders of Nepal provided moral and material support to our liberation movement. We in Bangladesh are always grateful to Nepal for that, and in gratitude, Bangladesh has bestowed 11 eminent Nepali personalities with the “Friends of Bangladesh” honour. Nepal is also one of the first countries to recognise Bangladesh as an independent nation after we gained our independence.
This historic relationship has transformed into excellent relations among the political leaders of both nations, and though there have not been any bilateral high level visits between our two countries, the leaders frequently meet and exchange their views in the sidelines of multilateral and regional meetings.
The people-to-people contact is also excellent. We are one of the major tourist sending countries to Nepal, while many Nepalese students go to Bangladesh to study MBBS and other subjects. There are frequent exchanges between artists, photographers and members of the civil society. All this contributes to a thriving relationship between the two old friends.

Which areas, according to you, have high potential for cooperation between the two nation?
There are many areas where we can cooperate and which have high potential – the first is, of course, trade. The trade between our two countries is far below the potential. Bangladesh is a fast growing economy, with a big middle class, probably more than the total population of Nepal, right at your doorstep. Your entrepreneurs can export Nepali products to Bangladesh and can also source their imports from us.
Tourism is another area of high potential – people of Bangladesh love to visit Nepal as the nation is regarded as one of most beautiful in the region and in the world. There is much that can be done to encourage Bangladeshis to visit Nepal. Similarly, Nepali tourists can also visit Bangladesh for its beaches and mangrove forests. I mentioned education above. This is another area that has a high potential to be harnessed.
There is also a lot of potential for cooperation in the energy sector. Even with the installed capacity of more than 15,000 MW, Bangladesh is an energy hungry nation and is unable to keep up with the demand for power to meet the needs of a fast growing economy. Nepal can export hydro-power to Bangladesh, which would provide a win-win situation for both the countries.

How do you see the future of BIN (Bangladesh, India, Nepal) cooperation?
I think there is a great scope for cooperation among the BIN (Bangladesh, India and Nepal) in sectors such as energy, water resources management, mitigating the effects of climate change, trade, transit and connectivity, to name a few, where we can work together for mutual benefit. The three counties, and geographically contiguous, share common rivers and ecosystems and common developmental challenges, and it is natural that the three countries should work together. The three nations can work together for the larger good of the people residing in the three countries as three of us share similar languages and culture and have a similar life-style.

Trade appears to be a major sector that can benefit both nations. What are your views?  
As I mentioned earlier, bilateral trade between our two countries is far below the potential. Last fiscal year, the trade volume was around US$ 60 million, with the trade in favour of Bangladesh. Very recently, in the last four years, we have seen Bangladeshi businesses and entrepreneurs beginning to explore the Nepalese market– the Bangladesh Embassy in Kathmandu is always encouraging them by organising a Single Country Trade Fair every year in Kathmandu. This has had a positive impact on Bangladesh’s exports to Nepal. Nepal’s exports to Bangladesh have declined over the last few years, and we would like to encourage the Nepalese business persons to take advantage of the huge market Bangladesh, having about 160 million consumers so close to your border, offers.
Traditionally, Nepal used to export only red lentils to Bangladesh, but you can export pashmina, footwear, ginger, cardamom, fruits, vegetables, handicraft items, semi-precious jewelry, herbal products, tea, coffee and so much more. We would like to invite Nepalese business persons to participate in the Dhaka International Trade Fair that takes place in Dhaka every year in the month of January, where they can explore the market for their products. In a nutshell, we are ready to extend our friendly support to boost Nepal’s trade with Bangladesh.

 How can Nepal and Bangladesh reap benefits from energy trade between them?
As mentioned earlier, there is a lot of scope for cooperation in the energy sector of the two countries, as Bangladesh will need a lot of energy to meet her ever growing needs soon. We would like to engage with Nepal in this respect- importing energy from Nepal to energy hungry, fast growing Bangladesh.

Is it viable and possible for Nepal to supply electricity to Bangladesh?
I think there is a good scope for cooperation in the energy sector between the two countries where Nepal can supply electricity, and we can purchase it. Because, Bangladesh’s requirement of power will grow in the near future. Apart from developing the power sector within our own country, we need to import power from other nations. Nepal can supply its power to Bangladesh, which we can purchase for our own use.

Regarding investment in Nepal, which area appears suitable for investors from Bangladesh?
Bangladesh has only recently started making investments in foreign countries. In Nepal, I believe, the entrepreneurs are interested to invest in tourism and the hospitality sector, energy, food processing and agro-processing and in infrastructure development. These sectors for Bangladeshi investors appear to be highly beneficial. I hope many Bangladeshi investors will come here and invest in these sectors

 How can we enhance people-to-people relations between our two friendly nations?
The people-to-people contact between our two countries is excellent. A large number of tourists come from Bangladesh to Nepal every year, and that number is likely to increase as Bangladesh becomes a more affluent country. We consider the Nepalese student studying in Bangladesh to be a bridge between our two countries, as they come back with strong attachments to Bangladesh.
Almost every month we learn about painting and photo exhibitions and other cultural programmes being organised by the artists of the two countries, either in Bangladesh or in Nepal, where there is participation from both countries. In addition to this, the Bangladesh Embassy is also organising many programmes involving artists, painters, photographers, think tanks, civil society members for an exchange of ideas on ways to enhance cooperation. There is also very good exchange between the media of the two countries – the Press Councils of the two countries have recently exchanged visits, the Information Commissions of the two nations have signed a MoU for cooperation and on community radio enterprise of the two countries. These efforts, taken by both nations, would certainly consolidate the people-to-people contact and relation in the days ahead.

How can both nations develop a long-term partnership?
I have discussed quite in detail about the potential areas of cooperation between the two nations. I firmly believe that if we start working together in the areas that I mentioned, it will definitely have a long-term positive impact on our bilateral relations. In addition to that, we can support the efforts of the business persons and private sector with regular exchanges and interaction through more formal channels and more high level bilateral visits, which will enable us to identify and smoothen the bottlenecks to further enhancing and strengthening our relationship.

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