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The Americas: Much more than the US

Kamal Dev Bhattarai

Kamal Dev Bhattarai

The Americas: Much more than the US

There is limited economic, political, cultural and people-to-people exchange between Nepal and countries in the Americas. But Nepal is trying to expand its diplomatic footprints there

 Seldom are other countries in the Americas, save for the US and Canada, discussed in Nepal. But on 25 January 2019, developments in the Latin American country of Ven­ezuela created ripples here. On that day co-chair of Nepal Communist Party Pushpa Kamal Dahal issued a statement, saying he “strongly denounces the US and its allies’ intervention in the internal affairs of Venezuela…”

Never mind the Venezuela fias­co. There is otherwise limited eco­nomic, political, cultural or peo­ple-to-people exchange between Nepal and countries in the Americas. This final part of our APEX series examines the status of bilateral rela­tions with countries in the American continent except the United States (which we dealt with in a separate series). Embassies and missions in Brazil, Canada, Washington DC and Nepal’s Permanent Mission in New York look after all the countries in the Americas with which Nepal has diplomatic ties.

Diplomatic relations with coun­tries of this region are slowly expand­ing. For instance, there was a signif­icant development in Nepal-Costa Rica relations when Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli paid an official visit to the country in September 2018 at the invitation of Costa Rican Presi­dent Carlos Alvarado Quesada. The two countries agreed to collaborate in areas of climate change, wom­en empowerment, rule of law, and agriculture. Such cooperation could deepen in the days ahead.

“Latin American and Asian coun­tries, especially China and India, are increasingly looking to deepen their economic, trade, investment and diplomatic as well as in some cases security and defense ties,” says Anil Sigdel, Director at Nepalmattersfo­rAmerica.org, a Washington-based think-tank. “This could be an oppor­tunity for Nepal.”

Nepal has long and deep engage­ment with Canada, and prepara­tions are underway to send Nepali migrant workers to Canada to work in agriculture, livestock, and hospitality. Canada receives half a million migrant workers from different countries every year, and the government of Nepal is requesting Canada to accept Nepali nationals as well.

Mexico is another country with which Nepal has a long diplomatic relation, even though Nepal does not have an embassy there. Mexi­co’s private sector has an interest in Nepal’s hydropower, tourism, and infrastructure.

“As Latin America looks beyond traditional partners such as Europe and the US, and converg­es with Asia in the framework of South-South cooperation, Nepal already has an advantage,” says Sigdel. “But for Nepal to engage with Latin America and benefit from its new business dynamism, it is vital that more Nepalis learn regional languages like Spanish and Portuguese.”

The Americas might seem distant. But as Nepal looks to diversify its for­eign policy in this globalizing world, they could as yet play an important role in boosting Nepal’s trade, tour­ism and investment.

On 25 January 2019, developments in the Latin American country of Venezuela created ripples in Nepal’s political and diplomatic circles. On that day co-chair of Nepal Communist Party Pushpa Kamal Dahal issued a statement, completely out of the blue, saying he “strongly denounces the US and its allies’ intervention in the internal affairs of Venezuela…”
There is little meaningful engagement between Nepal and Venezuela. But some leaders of NCP and fringe parties feel close to Nicolas Maduro’s country on ideological grounds. Or they at least betray some ideological affinity for governments with communist backgrounds. Dahal’s statement put Nepal government in a fix. The US, Nepal’s longtime ally, strongly objected and sought a clear government position.
The government seems to have learned. Referring to the ongoing discussions on the MCC inside the ruling party, government spokesperson Gokul Banskota said on January 30 this year: “We have an example of issuing press statement three times in the case of Venezuela. So Nepal should not try to explain the strategy and policy
of big powers.”
There is limited economic, political, cultural and people-to-people exchange between Nepal and countries in the Americas. But Nepal is trying to expand its diplomatic footprints there. This final part of our APEX series examines the status of bilateral relations with countries in the American continent except the United States (which we dealt with in a separate series).
Embassies and missions in Brazil, Canada, Washington DC and Nepal’s Permanent Mission in New York look after all the countries in the Americas with which Nepal has diplomatic ties.
Former Foreign Secretary Madan Kumar Bhattarai reiterates that except for the US and Canada, and to some extent Brazil, Nepal’s engagement in other American countries is minimal. “They are very far from Nepal,” Bhattarai says. “Among South American countries, Brazil is an emerging, hydropower-rich economy, which is why our engagement with it has somewhat increased.”
Wasted energy?
Of late, Nepal has been accused of haphazardly opening embassies in countries including in the Americas, with a question mark on their performance. But Bhattarai reckons aid utilization by smaller American countries could be an area of study for Nepal. “Some like Chile have been outstanding in the utilization of aid provided by Japan and other developed countries.”
One thing that brings Nepal and those countries somewhat closer is the Non-Aligned Movement. The United Nations operations, the Least Developing Countries (LDCs), and other international platforms provide added space for engagement.
Diplomatic relations with countries of this region are slowly expanding. For instance, there was a significant development in Nepal-Costa Rica relations when Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli paid an official visit to the country in September 2018 at the invitation of Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado
Quesada. The two countries agreed to collaborate in areas of climate change, women empowerment, rule of law, and agriculture. They also agreed to work together on various multilateral forums. Foreign policy observers, however, criticized the PM’s visit
as worthless.
The two countries had established bilateral relations in 1977. Notwithstanding the criticism our PM copped, Nepal could possibly learn from Costa Rica on how to achieve the right balance between environment and development. The country has set a sterling example in renewable energy.
“Latin American and Asian countries, especially China and India, are increasingly looking to deepen their economic, trade, investment and diplomatic as well as in some cases security and defense ties, says Anil Sigdel, Director at NepalmattersforAmerica.org, a Washington-based think-tank. “This could be an opportunity for Nepal.”
“The increasing connectivity between the Americas and Asia is good news for Nepal as the country is well-known for its Himalayas and its rich culture throughout Latin America and the Caribbean,” Sigdel adds. The growing number of Latin American tourists visiting India and China, he reckons, could easily extend their trip by a few days to come to Nepal.
Meanwhile, bilateral relations with Argentina are also evolving. Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali visited Argentina to attend the Second High-level UN Conference on South-South Cooperation. During the visit, he met Vice Foreign Minister of Argentina, Gustavo Zaluvinen. The two discussed better bilateral ties and economic linkages.
Nepal also has friendly relations with Cuba, even though there are no economic and political ties between the two. Cuba had sent a team of medical doctors in the immediate aftermath of the 2015 earthquakes. Moreover, Nepal has adopted a formal position on Cuba-US relations: “Nepal always stands in favor of normalization of bilateral relation between the United
States and Cuba.”
The Caribbean country of Saint Lucia is the latest to establish diplomatic relations with Nepal (in 2019). Both Nepal and Saint Lucia are members of the Group of 77 and the Non-Aligned Movement.
Thaw with Canada
Nepal has long and deep engagement with Canada, and preparations are underway to send Nepali migrant workers to Canada to work in agriculture, livestock, and hospitality. Canada receives half a million migrant workers from different countries every year, and the government of Nepal is requesting Canada to accept Nepali migrants as well. (Canada does not have an embassy in Kathmandu and its mission in New Delhi looks Nepal affairs.)
PM KP Oli met his Canadian counterpart Justin Trudeau in 2018, marking the first high-level meeting between Nepal and Canada after the establishment of diplomatic relations. Till date, around 90 Canadians have ascended Mt. Everest, and around 50,000 Nepalis currently live in Canada. Moreover, around 7,000 Bhutanese refugees of Nepali origin have been resettled in Canada. Trade between two countries is miniscule even although political relationship seems to be picking up.
Canada-Nepal Parliamentary Friendship Group was formed in the Canadian parliament on 4 October 2016; it organizes regular exchange visits. There has been bilateral development cooperation through the Canadian International Development Agency since 1970s, with the earliest cooperation noted in 1952 via the Colombo Plan. After Nepal’s 2006 political change, Canada supported democratic transition and the peace process. On trade, there is duty free access to some Nepali products in the Canadian market.
Nepal exports tea, coffee, spices, animal fodder, articles of leather, handbags, paper, paper-board, wadding, felt and nonwovens, special yarns, ropes and cables to Canada. In turn, it imports edible vegetables, dried peas, lentils, certain roots and tubes, nuclear reactors, boilers, machinery and mechanical appliances and parts, and aircraft from the North American country. Of late, Canada’s private sector has shown an interest in Nepal’s energy sector.
Energy, rural development, health, aviation, education, geographical survey, agriculture, poverty alleviation, health care, and food security are areas of Canada’s support for Nepal.
In recent years, engagement with Jamaica is also on the rise. Tourism Minister of Jamaica Edward Bartlett had even taken part at the inaugural event of Visit Nepal Year 2020 in Kathmandu.
As Bhattarai the ex-foreign secretary hinted, Brazil has been enjoying outstanding economic growth in recent decades—possibly a reason for growing relation between Brazil and Nepal. There is technical cooperation between the two countries, and a bilateral consultation mechanism is also in place.
Mexico is another country with which Nepal has a long diplomatic relation, even though Nepal does not have an embassy there (Nepal’s Ambassador to the US serves as non-resident envoy to Mexico. Likewise, the Mexican Ambassador to India is accredited to Nepal as well.) Mexico’s private sector has an interest in Nepal’s hydropower, tourism, and infrastructure projects.
“As Latin America looks beyond traditional partners such as Europe and the US, and converges with Asia in the framework of South-South cooperation, Nepal already has an advantage,” says Sigdel of the Washington-based think-tank. “But for Nepal to meaningfully engage with Latin America and benefit from its new business dynamism, it is vital that more Nepalis learn regional languages like Spanish
and Portuguese."