Besides running his conglomerate, the prominent Nepali industrialist is also on a quest to strengthen Nepal’s international economic presence.
--BY MANISHA BALAMI
One of the several areas where Nepal has lagged behind in is economic diplomacy which is crucial when it comes to boosting bilateral ties with other countries. It is yet to get any meaningful push despite the government’s repeated commitments to bolster cooperation with countries across the world. However, some prominent members of the country’s private sector have been filling this void by voluntarily assuming the role of economic diplomats.
Pradeep Kumar Shrestha, managing director of Panchakanya Group, is among the few business leaders who are working to bolster Nepal’s international economic presence. Shrestha, who has been the Honorary Consul of South Africa in Nepal since 2002, gives high importance to economic relations between countries in the present-day world. “Be it US-China or India-China partnerships, economic relations have played a great role in bringing the economies closer than the political relationship between them,” he opines.
With the global economy becoming more entwined, Shrestha says the world today has become a village where nations are inter-dependent than dependent over each other. “Besides, there are many examples, where economic sectors have bridged, narrowed and smoothened political conflicts. Personally, I would advocate more for economic diplomacy which is the need of the hour for us,” he mentions.
Shrestha’s engagement in economic diplomacy achieved new heights in July 2019 when he was nominated as the Dean of Honorary Consul Corps - Nepal (HCC-N), an association of Nepali businesspersons who are working as honorary consul generals of different countries. In November 2019, HCC-N hosted a regional conference of the Fédération Internationale des Corps et Associations Consulaires (FICAC), or World Federation of Consuls, in Kathmandu. The three-day conference, attended by around 200 honorary consuls from Nepal and other countries, was organised under the theme ‘Solidarity for Shared Prosperity’ with keynote speakers and guests expressing their thoughts on important topics including gender equality, climate change, and connectivity and prosperity.
“The conference was historical in the sense that it was the first large event of its kind organised in Nepal. Participants from 50 countries converged here in Kathmandu to discuss very important topics, and programmes like this will positively impact our socio-economic development,” shares Shrestha. This year HCC-N had planned to organise a big workshop in March/April which was affected due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The recent years have seen more Nepali businessmen taking up the role of honorary consul generals to represent different countries in their homeland. In a way, this has become an important part of the economic diplomacy as appointing honorary consuls presents an opportunity for countries to extend bilateral relations into the area of economic cooperation. “At present, there is a practice of identifying influential people of the countries who are willing to work voluntarily to represent advanced and emerging economies in a country like ours. Appointing people who are well-versed in economic and political aspects of the country can prove very helpful for investment and business purposes,” mentions Shrestha.
Shrestha who is also the former Vice-president of Confederation of Asia Pacific Chamber of Commerce and Industries (CACCI), a regional grouping of apex national chambers of commerce and industry, business associations and business enterprises in Asia and the Western Pacific, shares that socio-political similarities between Nepal and South Africa inspired him to take up the Honarary Consul post.
“South Africa is one of the most politically progressive and economically prosperous nations in the African continent. Though there has not been much of a relationship between the two countries in terms of trade, the South African democratic movement has been one of the major sources of inspiration for a generation of politicians in Nepal. The thoughts of late Nelson Mandela, who spearheaded the anti-apartheid democratic movement in South Africa, have long been revered by Nepalis for decades,” says Shrestha, adding, “Besides, Nepal has also drawn inspiration from the South African political reconciliation model for post-Maoist insurgency peace and reconciliation efforts.”
Shrestha thinks that Nepal can learn how to develop its agriculture and mining sectors from South Africa. “It could be a very good area for bilateral cooperation between the two countries. Similarly, infrastructure development can be another area in which South Africa has done exceedingly well,” he opines. The other areas he lists are tourism, wildlife and industrial sector development.
“Besides, the other important sector for us to look into could be aeronautical industry as South Africa is one of the major manufacturers of airplane parts. South Africa is exploring, exploiting and exporting its natural resources in a very organised manner. It has been one of the key reasons for their economic prosperity,” he says, adding that people there are educated and have a disciplined lifestyle.
Like the early 1990s South Africa, Nepal also went though a period of transformation after 2006. The promulgation of the Federal Constitution in 2015 followed by elections of the three tiers of government in 2017 fueled the hopes of the people for the country’s speedy economic development. Shrestha feels that while there is a stable government in place with a two-thirds majority in the Federal Parliament, results in terms of economic development, have not been as per expectations.
“The mindset and attitude of our political leadership and bureaucracy towards the economic sector have not changed much. This has contributed to the decrease of the willpower of the country’s business community to invest and create jobs,” he expresses. He thinks that the government and private sector lack the will to work in tandem. “The government and the business community should work together like the two wheels on a cart,” he says.
Shrestha, who is also the former President of the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industries (FNCCI), also points to the weaknesses in the Nepali private sector which have prevented it from playing its role efficiently. According to him, division within the business community is one of the major frailties. “Due to the internal rifts, we’ve not been able to present our agenda strongly,” notes Shrestha, adding, “We need to unite and make the government realise the private sector’s contributions.”