In an exclusive interview with The Business Standard, during the 33rd CACCI conference on Wednesday, Dr Pradeep Kumar Shrestha, vice president of the Confederation of Asia-Pacific Chambers of Commerce and Industry (CACCI), speaks about the importance of strengthening bilateral ties between Bangladesh and Nepal.
Dr Shrestha is also the managing director of Panchakanya, a business group in Nepal. Prior to joining CACCI, he served as the youngest president of the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry, and as the vice president of the Saarc Chamber of Commerce and Industries.
What is your observation on the diplomatic ties between Bangladesh and Nepal?
Although Nepal and Bangladesh has a good relationship, it has not been very fruitful. The relation has been built up through the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation Chamber of Commerce and Industries.
But, I think the bilateral relationship between both nations needs to improve further. We can learn a lot from Bangladesh. Bangladesh's development is a good example for us, in various areas such as the economic growth, poverty reduction and building of special economic zones. Bangladesh is looking to construct country-specific economic zones, which is a new idea for many of us.
What do you think about the overall connectivity of South Asia?
While certain Asian countries have gotten together and helped develop each other – similar to the European Union – the Saarc countries have, unfortunately, failed to do that. Even travelling from Bangladesh to India or from Bangladesh to Pakistan is still difficult.
As a regional platform, the CACCI should think about developing a smooth infrastructural system within its member countries. We cannot work properly without a strong network today. The CACCI can lead its 29 member countries to sign an agreement for exploring trade opportunities.
What can Bangladesh and Nepal do to strengthen bilateral relations and help each other?
I see lots of opportunities in this regard.
Firstly, Bangladesh is developing rapidly. It will soon graduate to the status of a developing country. However, a big challenge to that will be ensuring adequate supply of energy. Not only will Bangladesh have to meet the demand of energy for human consumption, it will also have to meet the energy demand for industrial consumption.
In this regard, Nepal can help Bangladesh through exporting hydroelectricity for meeting Bangladesh's upcoming demand for energy. Both countries have already signed an agreement on energy, and Bangladesh is looking forward to buying hydroelectric power from Nepal. This will help both countries increase their per capita incomes also.
While Nepal is a landlocked country, Bangladesh has access to the sea. Nepal is eagerly waiting to run import and export activities using the ports in Bangladesh.
What are the barriers for Nepal in using Bangladeshi ports? What solutions do you suggest?
Bangladesh has already offered the use of the Mongla port to Nepal. But, unfortunately, much has not happened because of a lack of infrastructural development, i.e., a few kilometres of road connecting both nations.
The problem is: this would require crossing through some kilometres of Indian territory, and India is not ready to give such access yet. I think it is time for all three countries to sign a tripartite agreement for development of the whole region. We do not depend on just one country – we are all interdependent on each other.
I think as a non-political organization, the CACCI is a good platform that can help all countries in the region grow together. The chamber may facilitate negotiations between member countries through economic diplomacy.
Do you think Bhutan's unwillingness to be a part of the BBIN Motor Vehicles Agreement jeopardises the deal?
Nepal always sees things from a broader perspective. We know that we are located in between two big nations – China and India. We depend on both. But we are still entering into the agreement for the benefit of our country.
I do not think Bhutan not being a part of the Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal (BBIN) Motor Vehicles Act will have that big of an impact on regional connectivity. I see other countries like Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Pakistan, which are very far from each other. But these three countries can connect to each other very easily. There should be no problem.