The honorary consul of Malta to Nepal is working to foster economic ties between the two countries.
In today’s world, most countries have prioritised mutual economic benefits in their relationship with other nations. And with this, the role of business community members has become crucial in terms of economic diplomacy. Businesspersons of a country like Nepal, where political leadership and bureaucracy are yet to fully realise the importance of having a mutually beneficial bilateral relationship with the rest of the world, are also playing their part in this regard by representing different countries as honorary consul generals. Among such business community members is Dinesh Shrestha, vice president (industry) of Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FNCCI). He has also been working as the Honorary Consul General of Malta to Nepal.
The formal diplomatic relationship between Nepal and the south European island was established in 1983. Both countries have been supportive of each other’s views in areas such as climate change and other different issues in international forums. However, it took some 25 years for both countries to start working for meaningful cooperation. In 2007, Malta established its high commission for Nepal at its embassy in New Delhi. A year later, the European Union (EU) nation established the office of the honorary consul general in Nepal by appointing Dinesh Shrestha to the post. Since then, both countries have been exploring ways to work in the area of economic cooperation with the attempts growing in recent years. In January 2021, the Malta-Nepal Parliamentary Friendship Group was formed with the aim to establish institutional relationship between the members of parliament of the two countries. A month earlier in December, the Nepal-Malta Chamber of Commerce was formed.
“The two countries have explored avenues for collaboration in the political, economic, cultural and educational fields ever since the establishment of bilateral ties. One of the instances in the cultural field I can think of is, translation and publication of Maltese folk tales in Nepali and distribution to various libraries in Nepal,” says Shrestha, adding, “We are also seeing Malta emerging as a preferred destination for Nepali youths to work in the hospitality and tourism industry there.” Similarly, Maltese universities also attract Nepali students who are looking to pursue their postgraduate degree programmes in Europe. Meanwhile, Nepal is a popular destination for adventure and expeditions and has long been considered a favourite tourist destination for Maltese travellers looking for ecotourism.” The number of Nepali tourists visiting Malta along with other Mediterranean and European countries is also increasing in recent years.
While the size of bilateral trade between the two countries is very small at the moment, activities related to import and export have seen an uptick in the last few years which Shrestha expects to continue to increase. In 2018, Nepal’s imports from Malta amounted to Rs 76.04 million and exports totaled Rs 228,379. According to him, there are some potential areas to foster economic cooperation between Nepal and Malta. He suggests looking into the unique strengths of both countries to take a step forward in this regard. “Malta is strong in pharmaceuticals, financial and information technology sectors. Both countries should explore the possibilities and opportunities to join hands in these sectors via foreign investment and technology transfer,” he says.
Tourism is another potential area in this respect as both Malta and Nepal are famous tourist destinations. He says that while Nepal is landlocked with majestic mountains and rolling hills, Malta is full of scenic coastlines and beaches and that both countries can collaboratively work towards increasing their tourism. According to Shrestha, Malta can also be an export market for certain Nepali products. “Tea and coffee are among the emerging exportable items of Nepal. Our high-quality tea and coffee could be exported to Malta,” he suggests.
In spite of the nearly four-decade long bilateral relations, Nepal and Malta do not have their respective embassies on each other’s soil. Nepal’s embassy in the United Kingdom looks after affairs with Malta while Nepal is looked after by the EU country’s High Commission at its embassy in New Delhi. Nonetheless, the absence of embassies has not hindered the two nations to strengthen their bilateral relations and work for economic cooperation. Shrestha says that except for the disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, things have been moving smoothly in terms of cooperation between Nepal and Malta. “The governments of both countries are working for the exchange of business delegations to explore new economic possibilities. But things have been delayed due to the pandemic,” he mentions.
Malta is known as one of the major financial hubs of Europe; it has robust banking and insurance sectors that cater to global clients. Given the expertise of financial services and investment companies in both inward and outward direct investments, Malta can be a major FDI source country for Nepal. Since 1995, FDI from the Mediterranean island nation to Nepal has already reached USD 1094.60 million.
Shrestha sees no big problems to bring in FDI from Malta. He opines that both countries will need to look for opportunities in sectors where they are strong in. “At this point, to have better understanding of each other is more important for starting an economic relationship. The Consulate of Malta in Nepal is already facilitating the private sector to increase business relations with their Maltese counterparts in areas such as tourism and education,” he says, adding, “Furthermore, we are also looking to export items like handicraft, tea, coffee, paper etc and are also strategising to bring in investment and technical knowhow in the pharmaceuticals and financial services sectors.”
Shrestha is a member of the Honorary Consul Corps Nepal (HCC-N), a forum of Nepali businesspersons representing different countries in Nepal as honorary consuls and consul generals. Established in 2007, HCC-N aims to play a vital role in Nepal’s economic diplomacy by working with the country’s diplomatic missions across the world and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. According to Shrestha, honorary consuls work voluntarily to develop relationships between countries. He says that HCC-N serves as the very first point of contact for all the newly appointed diplomats.
“We do meet with diplomatic authorities in Nepal. Be it during the earthquake of 2015 or the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, HCC-N has proactively worked to rescue foreigners in Nepal as well as bringing stranded Nepalis home from different parts of the world,” he mentions. Besides these activities, several exchange of business delegations have taken place between sending and receiving countries over the years mostly initiated by the consulates.