BIMSTEC will deliver benefits to Nepal’s energy and tourism sectors: Experts

By Modnath Dhakal

Kathmandu, Sept. 2:  Diplomats, economists and businessmen are hopeful that the Kathmandu Declaration of the Fourth BIMSTEC Summit 2018 would deliver benefits to Nepal’s energy, tourism, infrastructure and agriculture sectors.
The leaders of the BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) countries on Friday agreed to expedite the process of creating intra-regional connectivity, including development of roads, aviation, transmission line and information technology.
They signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on BIMSTEC Grid Interconnection while BIMSTEC Master Plan on Transport Connectivity is in the process of development.
According to the experts, the grid interconnection agreement will ensure the international energy markets for Nepal which will attract more investments from across the region.
The summit of the seven countries in and around the Bay of Bengal – Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand – decided to facilitate tourism by ensuring safety and security of the tourists and smooth transport connectivity, develop and promote the Buddhist Tourism Circuit, Temple Tourist Circuit, eco-tourism and medical tourism.
“This common effort to develop infrastructure to promote intra-regional connectivity will certainly benefit Nepal as well as other member nations while the proactive steps to collectively fight the challenges created by the climate change has made the summit unique. As our country is vulnerable to climate change, it holds great importance to us,” said Dr. Bhekh Bahadur Thapa, Nepal Coordinator of the Eminent Persons’ Group on Nepal India Relations.
He appreciated the summit for the fusion it created in terms of traditional and modern technology and issues such as agricultural technology.
Economist Naveen Adhikari said that the country could be immensely benefitted from the BIMSTEC declaration since the priorities of the regional mechanism – energy, agriculture and tourism – match Nepal’s national planning priority.
“Specially in energy and tourism we can reap advantages as the summit agreed on connecting the electricity grids of the member states and creating the Buddhist and Temple circuit. Nepal can attract investment in hydroelectricity from India and Bangladesh, and Myanmar and Thailand may invest in tourism sector,” he said.
Adhikari said that the dynamic link created by the BIMSTEC between two major economies in South Asia and East Asia – India and Thailand – would benefit other countries in the region.
In addition to it, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s positive attitude to develop connectivity among the member countries and the interest and investment of the multilateral donors such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank in the mechanism has pushed the hopes up.
President of the Confederation of Nepalese Industries Hari Bhakta Sharma said that the Kathmandu Declaration has instilled hope for opening up of greater markets for Nepali producers which would force the investors to enhance their production capacity.
“There is a huge potential of tourism promotion in the BIMSTEC countries which are connected with the Buddhism in either way. It will increase Nepal’s exposure thus may result in the influx of large number of tourists from the region,” he said.
According to Sharma, the member countries of the regional body should treat the electricity as a commodity thus allowing its easier flow and exchange.
Immediate past president of the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry Pashupati Murarka also said that the fourth summit of the regional body has offered more market options to Nepal’s electricity.
He said that the increased transport and energy connectivity will have immediate positive impact on Nepal’s tourism industry and foreign direct investment.
As Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli said in his closing remarks on Friday, translating the promises into actions would be a key challenge ahead.
And, Nepal needs to work hard to improve the domestic infrastructure and investment environment.
According to Dr. Thapa, market integration is a pre-requisite for the success of trade and investment facilitation since its absence will impact the enhancement of production.
“Though the successful hosting of the summit has shown positive signs for Nepal and the region, implementation of the agreements and commitments is challenging as the region drastically lacks the basic development infrastructure,” said Dr. Thapa.
“There is a tendency to express commitment to multiple things but shying away from its implementation,” he added.
Economist Adhikari also emphasises on strong political will in the part of the leadership of the BIMSTEC nations to achieve the development targets set by the summit.
He said that as the summit has opened up new economic and development avenues, the member countries might be motivated to work together for their common benefits.
“However, the success of cooperation also depends on how Nepal as well as other four countries from South Asia take the issues forward along with the SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation),” he maintained.
Similarly, Murarka and Sharma said that although the BIMSTEC summit opened ways for FDI, Nepal needed to work a lot to improve the investment climate.
“Our production is negligible; therefore, we need to increase our capacity. Government should come forward to support the private sector in this regard,” he said.
According to him, the intra-regional infrastructure projects demand a large investment which could pose the greatest challenge to its implementation aspect. 

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