Bilateral relations between Nepal and New Zealand are strong and deep-rooted often symbolised by Sir Edmund Hilary, who along with Tenzing Norgay Sherpa, climbed Everest in 1953. As a mountaineer, he devoted himself to raising funds for improving the livelihood of the Sherpa people of Nepal in the Khumbu region. However, the formal agreement between the two nations was only signed later on May 1, 1961, which formally channelised the diplomatic connection.
Lisa Choegyal, Honorary Consul of New Zealand to Nepal shares that the relationship between the countries stands on the legacy of Sir Edmund Hillary. “However, there are other stands to our relationship with mountaineering, trekking, ecotourism, national parks, wildlife, and natural landscape, which both Nepal and New Zealand share as their base for tourism” she says.
The diplomatic relationship between the countries is strong. The newly appointed high commissioner to Delhi, also the ambassador to Nepal, visited Kathmandu on 24 November last year, to present his credentials at the presidential palace. During the visit, Ambassador David Pine had the opportunity to meet with the Minister and the secretary of Foreign Affairs. He also visited some of the historic sites in Patan and met with representatives of Kathmandu Valley Preservation Trust, an NGO that has been supported by New Zealand.
“Another basis of our relationship is our linkage with earthquakes since both Nepal and New Zealand are major earthquake zones,” shares Lisa.
She points out that New Zealand was proud to be involved with the development of the original guidelines and standards for logical earthquake-proof buildings for Nepal 25 years ago.
“We do have some trade here based on New Zealand's strengths which are agriculture and dairy. There are some milk and dairy products imported here, along with wine, our agricultural exports. We do have several Nepali students who are studying in New Zealand and who have been there during normal times before Covid,” shares Lisa.
Tourism and mountaineering are two of the major components of the trade relationship between the two nations. Some of the leading commercial operators on Mt Everest are from New Zealand. Some of the work on movies like Everest and other less mountain-related movies like Dr. Strange have been carried out in support of New Zealanders. The movies were filmed in Nepal and also in New Zealand.
Although Nepal does not have a high trade exchange with New Zealand, Bishal Group has recently started importing Whittaker's Chocolate from New Zealand, and there has been some interest in growing Kiwi fruits in Nepal. “However, we would like to see more trade grow between the nations,” shares Lisa.
“We are both mountain-oriented countries and have this synergy as a strength. We would like to see an increase in activities related to trade and investments, but currently, the situation in Nepal is not conducive to international investment, and of course, the balance of payment situation here means that Nepal should focus harder on production rather than importing,” Lisa adds.
In terms of economic cooperation, investors from New Zealander, like other nations, want Nepal to be more investment-friendly with rules and regulations that can guarantee the safety and security of their investment. “At the moment there are indeed certain constraints,” she opines.
One of the major connections between Nepal and New Zealand is The Himalayan Trust which receives USD 100,000 from New Zealand annually. The trust is now a 100 percent Nepali-managed NGO. It was established with Sir Edmund's vision to support the livelihoods of people in the Himalayas. It receives funds from The Himalayan Trust New Zealand and other trusted sources for educational, health, conservational, and cultural heritage projects.
In terms of tourism, before the Covid pandemic, around 4000 New Zealanders visited Nepal annually for mountaineering and trekking activities.
“I was appointed as the Honorary Consulate of New Zealand for Nepal in 2010 and, I would like to say that our engagement has been very active since my appointment,” Lisa shares.
During the 2015 earthquake, New Zealand was approached by the Ministry of Urban Development for assistance with regards to two major areas. New Zealand engineers were invited to Nepal to help train and strengthen Nepali engineers on seismic earthquake technology and to rebuild the damage caused by the earthquake while the Department of Survey at the Ministry of Land and Reform Management worked with leading experts from New Zealand to reinstate Nepal's geodetic network which was damaged in the natural disaster.
This assistance has led to an ongoing relationship with the University of Otago. Professor Chris Pearson of the university has been on many visits with his counterparts in the department of survey working initially to reinstate the geodetic network. He was also asked for help to premeasure the height of Mt. Everest and is currently assisting on the geodetic master plan for Nepal.
“Since my appointment, we have also worked with several scholarship programmes. The New Zealand government offers scholarships to Nepali students for master's degrees and PhDs,” says Lisa.
Likewise, she also co-chairs with Dr Ganak Gurung of WWF Nepal, the Migma Norbu Memorial Scholarship to provide scholarships to two Nepali post graduate students in natural resources management and tourism at New Zealand’s Lincoln University. Jointly offered by the WWF, Lincoln University, and the Greater Himalayas Foundation and set up in the memory of Migma Norbu Sherpa who was a leading natural conservator at the WWF, so far 14 Nepali students have successfully studied under the programme.
“As a sporting nation of cricket and rugby, we are looking ahead to initiate some activities with the involvement of the New Zealand cricket team. Sports diplomacy is something that our ambassador David Pine is keen to work on,” reveals Lisa.
New Zealand has also been supporting Nepal on other humanitarian causes besides earthquakes and the current pandemic. According to Lisa, the New Zealand government has made an exception for Nepal, as it is more focused on supporting the southern pacific nations, by assisting in the repatriation of the Bhutanese refugees. New Zealand was one of eight countries and the first nation to accept Bhutanese refugees.
According to Lisa, HCC-N, an association of honorary consulates to Nepal, is an important organisation which has great value in terms of advocacy and networking. “In New Zealand, we feel highly valued as honorary consuls. During the ongoing Covid crisis, I was very pleased to advocate for New Zealand to help Nepal during the crisis, and a million dollars was donated to UNICEF Nepal for Covid relief,” she adds.