The mission and vision of this prominent industrialist is to transform HCC-N into a key component of Nepal’s economic diplomacy.
At a time when the Covid-19 pandemic has pushed the world to unchartered waters of massive socio-economic disruptions, enhancing economic diplomacy has become more important than ever for any country to safeguard its interests. Despite repeated commitments over the years, the government of Nepal is yet to chart out a meaningful path for its engagement with other countries to reap the benefits of economic cooperation. In such a situation, members of the Nepali business community have been playing the role of ‘economic ambassadors’ to enhance Nepal’s presence on the global stage.
Among the flag bearers of Nepal’s economic diplomacy is industrialist Basanta Kumar Chaudhary, chairman of Bhuramal Lunkarand as Conglomerate (BLC), who is active in different realms of business. Chaudhary has been working as the Honorary Consul General of the Kingdom of Morocco to Nepal since 2007. In 2020 July, he became the Dean of the Honorary Consul Corps – Nepal (HCC-N), a forum of Nepali business persons representing different countries in Nepal as honorary consuls and consul generals, taking over the reins of the organisation from his predecessor Pradeep Kumar Shrestha.
To gear up its activities and presence, HCCN-N has devised a number of plans for the next year under Chaudhary’s leadership. “HCC-N has finalised programmes for the next 12 months. In keeping with its mission, HCC-N members will work on building and strengthening ties between countries they represent. We will take up one social project of cultural importance to highlight our activities,” informs Chaudhary, adding, “Special emphasis will be laid on public relations to make our masses aware of the role of HCC-N and its ability to help them.”
Chaudhary thinks that diplomacy is all about healthy and constructive ties among countries. For this reason, he envisions HCC-N’s endeavour to impress upon the Nepal government the need to revive the facilities available to HCC-N members. “This would facilitate us in serving Nepal better in conjunction with the countries we represent,” he says.
The Covid-19 pandemic has threatened the wellbeing of many Nepalis living abroad. In the meantime, honorary consuls have been actively supporting efforts to rescue and repatriate Nepali nationals stranded in various countries. “I must applaud all consuls for their remarkable role during the Covid-19 crisis in bringing back Nepali migrants from different countries with government support,” says Chaudhary.
The role of an organisation like HCC-N has become even more important in these trying times to face the economic wrath brought by the global health emergency. As significant headwinds remain for the foreseeable future, there have been calls for the government to utilise all the tools available at its disposal, including diplomacy, to soften the blow to the country’s economy. Industrialist Chaudhary is of the view that the focus on economic issues should be accorded priority in these times of global financial squeeze, extreme economic slowdown and growing unemployment.
“Though economic ties can be expedited more vigorously with countries which have resident ambassadors in Nepal, honorary consuls too can play an active role by seeking new trade and business avenues with countries they represent,” he mentions, adding, “HCC-N members will have to walk the extra mile to study the business and aid opportunities, which Nepal can avail of with their representative countries. Win-win packages will have to be devised.”
As the Honorary Consul General of Morocco, Chaudhary has been active in his endeavours to enhance bilateral and economic ties between Nepal and the kingdom in Maghreb. He sees a big potential in different areas of cooperation between the two countries. According to Chaudhary, he is working on tie-ups to procure diammonium phosphate (DAP) and other fertilizers for Nepal. “Soil studies have been conducted to choose appropriate fertilizers,” he informs. Besides, he is also trying to get more scholarships in Morocco for Nepali students. The North African nation has been supporting Nepal in difficult times; in 2015 it donated USD 1 million to Nepal when the Himalayan country was struck by the devastating earthquake.
Uncertain times demand higher levels of astuteness in the government and private sector so as to face the challenges and secure the country’s interests. Economic diplomacy thus is an important tool in this respect. Chaudhary sees the need for Nepal to have a careful approach to engage more with other countries of the world. “The Covid-19 pandemic has ushered in a paradigm change in the way economic transactions will be conducted henceforth. Nepal needs to make more friends by espousing multilateralism in the true sense of the term,” he says.
According to him, a land-locked country like Nepal cannot afford to sour ties with its neighbours though the nation's honour and sovereignty should always remain paramount. “With the Covid-19 caused economic crisis sparing no one, we need to understand there will be fewer free lunches. We will have to pay for favours in one way or the other,” he mentions.
Chaudhary is of the view that diplomacy can only play a secondary role in the economic transformation of Nepal, and that the elected representatives, electorate and the executive have to start acting as equal stakeholders in the country's destiny. “Unfortunately, this is not happening,” he expresses. According to him, diplomacy can at best be a reliever and facilitator for the challenges Nepal faces today.
But the government is yet to realise the importance of honorary consuls. Chaudhary says that real economic diplomacy comes into play when a nation values business, trade and commerce. “For reasons unique to each country, economy and finance did not get the right priority in the foreign services of most countries in our region for a very long period,” he opines. He says that business and profit were not accorded their rightful place by successive regimes and the political ideology used to drive foreign policy.
“No wonder, honorary consuls too have been denied their due place in Nepal's overall scheme of things. Otherwise, they could have and can still do much more for the country,” he says.
Highlighting on the role of honorary consuls, he mentions that they serve more than as a mere link between their principal (country) and Nepal. He observes that the full-time ambassadors operating out of New Delhi find honorary consuls of great use in formulating their policies about Nepal. “Consuls also play a major role in visa related operations. More substantial things often happen. But much more can happen if Nepal's foreign ministry makes honorary consuls an integral part of the country's outreach,” he suggests.
Honorary consuls are likely to prove to be resourceful individuals for the government to carry out its diplomatic missions due to their long engagement in business activities, international networks and negotiation skills. “Honorary consuls bear their own expenses and do not expect a rupee from the government. They bring to the table their networking skills and contacts with the outside world. Barring politics, consuls play an effective role in the realm of economy, culture, arts and social issues,” says Chaudhary, adding that it is for the government to make best use of these resourceful persons to further the country's interests.
It is, however, not that the roles and responsibilities of honorary consuls come without any strings attached. According to Chaudhary, the entry to the world of honorary consuls should not be a free for all. He says that an individual representing the country should have the right credentials. “Entry level benchmarks can be decided by HCC-N in consultation with the ministry of external affairs. Latest information on the country's foreign policy and requirements should be provided to honorary consuls. The government should enable and equip them to put their best foot forward. After all, the country's prestige is at stake,” he stresses.