Shakya seeks to contribute to Nepal-Fiji ties by exploring and harnessing the economic opportunities presented by the bilateral relationship.
Nepal and Fiji established formal diplomatic relations in 1986. Like with other nations, Nepal has cordial relations with the South Pacific country; both countries have supported each other’s views at the United Nations and international forums such as the Non-aligned Movement. However, this association of over 35 years still awaits strong diplomatic and economic engagement. “The hiccup-free relationship indicates that the two countries share a largely common world view though thousands of miles apart,” says Parash Shakya, honorary consul general of Fiji to Nepal.
According to Shakya, the ties are steady and promising but much needs to be done to realise the economic potential of the relationship between the two countries. “As much as there are opportunities that lie ahead, unfortunately we haven’t been able to materialise the bilateral relationship much from the time of its inception,” he opines, adding, “But we are working on this and hopefully things will soon shape up into something much more significant.”
The past decade has been important in terms of consolidating the bilateral ties between the two countries. In 2013, Nepal and Fiji further strengthened diplomatic ties with the appointment of non-resident ambassadors- Yogesh J Karan appointed as Fiji’s non-resident ambassador to Nepal and Rudra Kumar Nepal appointed as Nepal’s ambassador to Fiji. At the time, Karan was Fiji’s ambassador to India and Rudra Kumar was Nepal’s ambassador to Australia. Similarly, in 2014, Parash Shakya was appointed as the Honorary Consul General of Fiji in Nepal. “These appointments have given the necessary push for establishing meaningful ties between the two countries,” says Shakya who is executive director of Bhuramal Lunkarandas Conglomerate and chairman of Aahana Holdings.
Except for the appointment of ambassadors, no other diplomatic exchange has taken place between the two countries so far. However, representatives of Nepal and Fiji have occasionally met at international forums.
The presence of Nepalis in the South Pacific country dates back to the 1800s. According to Fijian government statistics, there are some 2,000 Fijians of Nepali origin whose ancestors came there as farm labourers along with Indian workers during the British colonial rule.
Despite the historical links, economic ties between Nepal and Fiji are still weak as shown by the bilateral trade statistics. According to the Department of Customs, Nepal imported goods worth Rs 282,000 from the South Pacific country in 2020. The earlier years were also not promising in this respect with the meagre size of bilateral trade. “However, geographical distance does impact economic ties between two nations and issues such as political instability and rules on foreign investment also effect the cooperation,” says Shakya.
He is of the view that both countries need to take a different approach to foster economic cooperations. “The knowledge-technology economy is the new mantra. So, trading of tangible goods across oceans and continents is no longer the driving force of global economic cooperation,” he says, adding, “Moreover, both Nepal and Fiji face low GDP challenges. Therefore, we can focus on transfer of knowledge in areas of common interest viz. tourism and hydropower.”
With a population of only 900,000 Fiji is able to attract 70,000 tourists annually. It also meets 60 percent of its electricity needs through hydropower. Shakya believes that this presents a big opportunity for both countries to work in these sectors for mutual benefit. He thinks that Nepal can be a good destination for Fijian tourists. “There are opportunities in both hospitality business and medical services as Nepal now boasts good medical intuitions, and people from Fiji already come to India for checkups. Similarly, Fiji can be a beautiful tourism destination for Nepalis as well,” he opines. Other areas are education and handicraft export in which both nations can work together. He sees that the governments of both countries are willing to work for economic cooperation as there have been different sets of talks about how to take it further.
According to Shakya, high net-worth Fijians with multinational business footprints could perhaps see investment opportunities in Nepal. And as the honorary consul, he has been working as a conduit for discussions between Nepali and Fijian delegates. “I believe that these discussions will lead to more positive outcomes in the days to come,” he says.
Shakya is a member of the Honorary Consul Corps Nepal (HCC-N), an association of Nepali businesspersons representing different countries in Nepal as honorary consuls and consul generals. Formed in 2007, HCC-N has aimed to become an important tool for Nepal’s economic diplomacy working closely with the government and the country’s diplomatic missions across the world.
Shakya says that the role of HCC-N has been important as it has acted as a primary forum where businessmen and delegates from different countries and sectors come in for a potential alliance with the HCC-N providing them with the necessary guidance. “HCC-N has been doing its best with limited resources and outreach and we certainly scout for opportunities favourable to Nepal,” he opines. But he thinks that the government’s direct role can fetch better results. Political stability is another major factor which Shakya says has an impact on foreign investments. “Foreign investors, be it individuals or government agencies, want to be doubly sure about the political stability of a country they may want to invest in,” he says.
Despite the commitments made by the government over the years to make sure that Nepal benefits from its relationship with the rest of the world, meaningful economic diplomacy is still to take roots. But Shakys observes positive changes in the government’s approach. “The government has been supportive in many ways. They entertain our request for meetings and we share our point of view and ideas to which they agree and guide us with their own ideas enabling us to move forward in a much easier manner,” he shares.