The Honorary Consul General of Georgia in Nepal is actively working to improve Nepal’s global image.
In today’s highly integrated world where ties between countries are defined by their trade relationship and cooperation between them rather than conventional alliances, economy and diplomacy go hand-in-hand. In a country like Nepal where the government is yet to do anything meaningful in this area, prominent members of the country’s private sectors have become the flag bearers of the nation’s economic diplomacy. One of them is industrialist Shiv Ratan Sharda, chairman of Sharda Group, who has been the Honorary Consul of Georgia in Nepal since June 2017. Sharda, who is also a founder member and a governing council member of the Confederation of Nepalese Industries (CNI), observes potential in the growing trade and commerce relationship between Nepal and Georgia. “The climate of Nepal and Georgia is similar, and both are mountainous countries,” he says.
The population of Georgia is 3.6 million. The country became independent from the former Soviet Union in 1991. With the dawn of democracy, the country gradually started to move along the path of economic growth and healthy bilateral ties with countries across the world. It was in 2005 when Nepal and Georgia formally established diplomatic relations.
At present, there is not much trade between the two countries. Sharda thinks that there could be some major areas of cooperation between the two countries.
According to him, Nepal can learn about ways to boost its tourism sector from Georgia. “The flow of tourists is really good in Georgia. As both countries have geographical similarities, we can learn about ways to increase the flow of tourists from them,” he says. “During the Visit Nepal 2020, which was later cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we targeted 2 million visitors. But Georgia welcomes over 10 million tourists annually”.
While Sharda has been trying to bring joint venture investment from Georgia and start the import of such products such as wine, he admits that there has not been much progress. He says that the signing of the memorandum of understanding (MOU) between Nepal and Georgia on visa fees exemption in 2019 is the biggest achievement in his three years tenure as the Honorary Consul General. As per the agreement, the diplomatic and official/service passport holders of Nepal will be able to get a free visa while travelling to Georgia and vice versa. “The Nepal-Georgia bilateral relationship was established only 15 years ago, and I think this is a big achievement for us as such an agreement has not been signed with several other countries that have very old relations with Nepal,” he opines.
According to Sharda, an agreement signed between the Nepal Chamber of Commerce (NCC) and Georgian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) in July 2019 is another achievement in terms of bolstering economic ties between Nepal and Georgia. The agreement, which was signed by NCC President Rajesh Kazi Shrestha and Giorgi Pertaia, president of GCCI in the presence of Georgian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Alexander Khvtisiashvili, aims to expand trade ties between the two countries and explore investment opportunities. “15 years after the establishment of the bilateral relationship, we are gradually moving towards growing economic ties with Georgia,” says Sharda.
He sees economic diplomacy as a very important tool for expanding Nepal’s presence in the world. Sharda is of the view that the role of ambassadors and honorary consul generals of any country carries utmost importance in this respect as they represent their nations in the world. “The main role of the ambassadors and honorary consul generals is to bring the countries closer by strengthening the cultural and economic ties. But currently, our country’s diplomatic limitations are barring us from working meaningfully,” expresses Sharda.
Further, he believes that the government does not seem to be giving the requisite amount of priority to this matter. “Moreover, people might think that we are getting so many facilities. But the blue number plate vehicle that we were provided with is also taken away from us now,” he shares. Sharda laments the spread of misleading information regarding the position of consulates. “The vehicle is used especially for the ambassadors of the country that we represent here. They come to Nepal very frequently. No facility has been provided to us and that is very embarrassing,”
The role of the ambassadors and honorary consul generals in the countries that are developed is crucial since they represent Nepal. They can express the types of investment needed in the country and work as mediators to further the process. “Besides, we are informed about the problems and difficulties tourists are facing and then we help them accordingly,” says Sharda. He also states that he has held a few meetings with the ministry of foreign affairs and put forward suggestions as the CNI requires the cooperation of the ministry in several matters. According to Sharda, while some concerns have been addressed, he will continue to strive for a higher degree of cooperation.
Shedding light on the operational process, Sharda says that before taking any action, the ambassador in Delhi must be informed. And in a situation where the relationship between the two countries is not good, the information is sent to MoFA through the ambassador. “We work as a communicator. We cannot approach directly. We are the sub-ordinate of the ambassador,” he adds.
While several investors from Georgia have shown interest in investing in Nepal, Sharda says industrialists in Nepal haven’t shown much interest to build business cooperation. He relates this hesitation to the fact that Georgia’s bilateral relationship with Nepalis relatively new and that Nepal is yet to engage in bilateral trade with the Caucasus nation. Although some time ago, a team had approached CNI for government-to-government (G2G) business about military helicopter service. “While there was no response initially, we have recently received a response,” he mentions.
Sharda believes the government has to first support domestic businesses in times of difficulties in order to boost the country’s international trade. He is of the view that the government has not lived up to expectations during the time of the coronavirus pandemic. “We help the government by paying taxes on time. But in return, the support has been miniscule. The government had announced some relief measures in the Federal Budget but that has also not been completed,” he shares.
Sharda has a more positive outlook regarding the monetary policy that the NRB has announced. “We are satisfied with it, though the government has nothing to do with it. Having said that, if the government hadn’t responded positively, the policy may not have been announced,” he mentions.
Sharda believes in his motto of ‘Made in Nepal, Use in Nepal’. The idea behind the motto being that all facets of the country, whether it is the government, businessmen or consumers should give priority to products made in Nepal. “Giving priority to local products can help to reduce the trade deficit,” he says, adding, “We have many examples of such products that are produced in Nepal but are alsobeing imported in large quantities.”
Reflecting on the state of business in Nepal during the pandemic, Sharda states that the road ahead will be challenging as businesses endeavour to revive the nation’s economy. “In such a situation, the government is expected to invest in infrastructure development so that the industries keep operating,” he says.