-- BY TAMISH GIRI
On 16 May 2017, Lithuania opened its Honorary Consulate in Nepal. To mark the occasion, former Lithuanian Ambassador to Nepal, H.E. Laimonas Talat-Kelpša, was in Nepal to hand over the Letter of Commission to the newly appointed Honorary Consul, Shovakar Neupane. The appointment of the honorary consulate and inauguration of the consulate office in Nepal has been the stepping stone for the two democratic nations to create closer ties.
Nepal first established diplomatic ties with Lithuania on 8 February 2005. Relations between the two countries have remained cordial and friendly since then. Nepal has accredited its embassy in Copenhagen as the non-resident Embassy to Lithuania, and the Lithuanian Embassy in New Delhi is accredited to Nepal. There have been contacts at official levels during UN General Assembly meetings and other international forums. The two countries have worked together on several occasions in areas of mutual interest. However, high-level visits are yet to take place from both sides.
Shovakar Neupane, the Honorary Consul of Lithuania to Nepal shares that the bilateral relationship between Nepal and Lithuania is very good. “Lithuania is a rising nation and member of the European Union. The diplomatic relationship with Lithuania is very crucial for Nepal. Lithuania is a democratic nation, and we both stand together for international democratic values”, he says.
Ambassador of Lithuania Julius Pranevičius visited Nepal in 2018 to present his letters of credence to the Right Honourable President of the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal, Bidya Devi Bhandari. “During his visit, the ambassador and the president discussed the possibilities of developing more active political, economic, and cultural cooperation between the two countries,” shares Neupane.
The Lithuanian ambassador also met with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of Industry, Commerce & Supplies, the Finance Secretary and discussed bilateral political and economic relations. Neupane recalls that during the meeting, representatives of both nations agreed that the countries should search for potential niches for boosting economic cooperation.
Likewise, Ambassador Pranevičius inaugurated a visa application centre in Kathmandu in 2021. Regarding the latest engagement, Neupane shares that his team is undertaking various meetings with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Home, Finance, Tourism, Communications to exchange views of both countries.
So far, there has been minimal economic transactions between the two countries. Trade, tourism, and investment relations between the two countries are at a very low level. Some of the commodities imported by Nepal from Lithuania are machinery and other equipment. Imports are mainly in cyber security, spare parts, machinery items. Likewise, Nepal exports handicrafts to Lithuania.
Neupane explains that Lithuania's potential is in cyber security, Fintech, ICT, logistics sectors. Lithuania is ready to share its reform experience with Nepali institutions, he points out.
Similarly, he adds that Nepal is currently working with Lithuania in the Information Technology sector. Neupane sees IT, manufacturing of heavy machinery, and tourism as the sector where the two nations can work together.
In terms of tourism, only a few Nepalis visit Lithuania, while many Lithuanians come to Nepal. According to Neupane, Lithuanians visit Nepal mostly for trekking, mountaineering, and pleasure.
The number of Lithuanian tourists visiting Nepal has been growing. Nepal has a good image among Lithuanians. “Lithuania doesn't have high mountains, and Lithuanians coming to Nepal are overwhelmed with the landscape and view of the Himalayas,” says Neupane.
Around 3,000 to 4,000 Lithuanian tourists visit Nepal annually. The number is likely to grow further with direct air connectivity between the two countries.
After Neupane was appointed as the Honorary Consul, the bilateral relations between Nepal and Lithuania have grown more cordial. A case in point being when Lithuania helped Nepal during the time of the Covid pandemic.
It was following Neupane's appointment that His Excellency Pranevičius visited Nepal and met with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Education and Information Technology, Finance and expressed his views to strengthen the diplomatic relations between the two nations. “Also, the consulate office is working jointly with the Lithuanian Embassy in New Delhi for student exchange programmes to connect youths and universities of the two nations,” Neupane adds.
In terms of investment, nothing substantial has come forth from the Baltic nation. However, Neupane shares that Nepal needs to work on its investment policy to attract investment from Lithuania. “Nepal’s possibility lies in tourism and agriculture. Lithuania can invest in these sectors, but we need to work on our investment policies,” he says.
Neupane also shares that he is working to bring industrialists from both nations closer. “There haven't been many exchanges. The industrialists should visit the respective nation to understand the business prospects and opportunities. We will also arrange an industrialist visit to Lithuania”, he adds.
Neupane also observes sports diplomacy as being another strong medium to strengthen diplomacy between the two nations. “Nepalis are doing well in football, weight lifting, taekwondo, karate, and we can work together in sports exchanges and training. It can help Nepali sportsmen to get exposure. Sports can be a good medium to connect the citizens of our nations,” Neupane says.
Neupane is also a member of the Honorary Consular Corps of Nepal (HCCN). He is of the opinion that HCCN is a big firm represented by reputed and highly recognised personalities and industrialists and that it can make a great impact on the economic diplomacy of Nepal.
Likewise, regarding the importance of HCCN, Neupane shares that if the government also makes it responsible for economic diplomacy, HCCN can perform very well. “Economic diplomacy is a powerful thing, and with our experience in the corporate sector, we will work in organisations very well,” he mentions.