16 July 2019, Kathmandu
In a recent interview, HE Mashfee Binte Shams, Ambassador of Bangladesh to Nepal informed that her country is willing to invest a large sum in the hydro sector of Nepal. Moreover, she suggested the Nepal Government for organizing events in Bangladesh to promote Visit Nepal 2020. Hari Prasad Paudel of Pariwartan Khabar Media had talked with her regarding current developments and prospects of Nepal – Bangladesh ties. Excerpts:
Your Excellency, how did you start your diplomatic career?
We have Civil Service in Bangladesh too. Bangladesh Civil Service examination is held every year. So, I choose foreign affairs then, I got selected.
As an ambassador, how do you assess the bilateral relations between Nepal and Bangladesh?
The bilateral relation between these two countries is very excellent. We have friendly ties dating back to centuries. Nepal has also supported us during our war of liberation in 1971 and Nepal was one of the first country to recognize us in early January 1972. So, based on the evidence, our relationship has been strengthened over the years.
An agreement has been just signed on electricity trade potentiality between Nepal and Bangladesh. What step will be the next from the Bangladesh side to implement this Energy Cooperation Agreement?
Actually, it is not an agreement; it is an MOU which was signed between Bangladesh and Nepal last August. Under that MOU, it’s an MOU on cooperation in the energy and power sector. So, the two sides have set up a joint working group, joint staring group, the secretary level and also the technical team. So, they will look into the ways how we can do power trade between Bangladesh and Nepal. Bangladesh’s economy is a very fast-growing economy. Last year, our economy grew at a rate of more than 8 percent. We are targeting to become a developed economy by 2041 and our electricity demand will grow up to 40 thousand megawatts by 2041. So, we need a huge amount of electricity and we think Nepal will be in a position to export that to us. So, that is the basis of current co-operation.
In this backdrop, is Bangladesh interested for some sort of joint investment in hydropower projects in Nepal?
Yes, we have announced quite some time ago that we are willing to invest up to one billion dollars in the hydro sector of Nepal. There is the private sector also, and if not investment, we are interested to buy from anywhere from the Nepali producers. Anyway, we can go for equity sharing as long as the power is flowing from Nepal to Bangladesh, we will be happy to process it.
As Nepal and Bangladesh share a long history regarding trade relations as well, what is your role in promoting such type of bilateral trade between Nepal and Bangladesh?
Well, our economy in Bangladesh is mainly fueled by our exports. Right now we are exporting around the worth of 30 to 37 billion dollars and a very negligible amount that is only around 40 million dollars is being exported to Nepal. Similarly, Nepal’s export to Bangladesh is also very negligible. So I feel it’s far below the potential. I would like to see it grow over the years. So, what the embassy does is to try to facilitate. We are working with exporters and importers. We in the embassy have organized a single country trade fair where we brought the entrepreneurs from Bangladesh to introduce them to the Nepali market. It was also aimed at introducing the Nepali consumers to different kinds of products that we are producing in Bangladesh. And, so far, we have had quite good results from that.
Bangladesh is very famous for its garment products as well. Do you see any possibility to cooperate between these two Asian countries regarding this production of the garment and other products?
Right now we are the second largest manufacturer and exporter of readymade garments. There is of course always scope for cooperation. Business people will cooperate as long as it benefits them. Mainly the garment sector is private sector driven enterprises for us. Sometimes ago, there were some discussions in Bangladesh among some of the factory owners. They wanted to relocate some factories in Nepal because Nepal has easy access to the market of the US and other different countries.
What are the key challenges that you have faced working as an ambassador to Nepal?
In Nepal, there is no challenge at least for the ambassador of Bangladesh. It’s a very comfortable place. Since the people of Nepal are so friendly and co-operative, it is really very easy to work here.
Nepal has planned to celebrate 2020 as Visit Nepal and approaching its also next door and Nepali Government is planning to welcome more than 1 million visitors that year. How Bangladesh will take this event? Would you like to share some plans for the Bangladesh Embassy in Nepal ?
Well, Nepal has welcomed more than 35 thousand tourists last year from Bangladesh. We would like to see that number increased. I feel that Nepal has not really tapped the market that is there in Bangladesh. We are a growing economy and our people are getting more purchasing power. We have recently learned how to love foreign travel. Earlier we didn’t really travel that much. Now Bangladeshi people are going in many places. Since Nepal is so close, and your mountains are so beautiful, Bangladeshi people love to come to Nepal. I think that if you would promote a little bit more mainly on the television channels, you can have some promos, or you can do some roadshows for promoting Nepali tourism in Bangladesh. You will get very good results. And, I also feel that if there was direct road linkage between Bangladesh and Nepal like direct bus service, which would also really encourage lots of tourist from Bangladesh. Especially it would promote tourism in eastern Nepal. The tourist movement would be much easier and some economic packages could be arranged for the tourists.
Is there any plan of Bangladesh Embassy in Nepal to organize such events or food festivals to promote this type of 2020 event?
Well, this March we organized Bangladesh food festival in Nepal because we also feel that a lot of Nepali were also not aware of the very culture of Bangladesh. So, what the Embassy sometime regularly does is we organized film festivals, art festivals, photo festivals, and music and dance programs and so we recently organized food festival so that Nepal could get learned about Bangladesh also. And, I feel that to promote tourism from Bangladesh to Nepal perhaps your embassy in Dhaka would be a better place to organize this promotional rather than the embassy of Bangladesh here so they could organize programs so that Bangladeshi would get to know more about Nepal.
How many places in Nepal have you visited ?
I have traveled quite extensively in Nepal. Two main areas where I haven’t gone are Solukhumbu and far west region of Nepal.
In your opinion, which practice of Nepal is suitable for Bangladesh to adopt ?
In Nepal, I think the best thing is that you are so friendly and so welcoming to the tourists. You have also promoted your tourism very well. I think, how to promote tourism is the idea we can really learn from Nepal. We have a beautiful sea beach Cox’s Bazar, which is the longest sea beach in the world. We also have the world’s largest mango forest and so many other scenic beauty spots. We have really not promoted our tourism so much. So, maybe that is one area we could learn from you.
Would you like to say something about your country’s presence in the BIMSTEC summit recently held in Nepal ?
Well, one of our core foreign policy objectives of Bangladesh is to have stronger regional co-operation. That is why we were the first country to promote the idea of SAARC and we were also one of the first founding members of BIMSTEC. We feel that for the prosperity and the development of any country, the entire region must progress together. Otherwise, there will be instability in the region. So, we are very firmly committed to working within these regional co-operation frameworks. In BIMSTEC, our honorable prime minister led the Bangladesh delegation and she had a very fruitful time here.
Would you like to share some ideas about the current status of SAARC ?
SAARC is not getting its proper role now. As the founding country of SAARC,
what do you say?
Well, SAARC is an idea that was promoted for the countries of the region to work together. Many people think that it is not working very well now. But, the only thing that is not working in SAARC is that the summit is not being held. On the other hand, if you talk about the secretariat, regular meetings are being held at the working level, many workshops, training programs, people contacts, and many programs are going on. I think this is really bringing the benefits to the people. Of course, the high-level summit also gives a big political statement but other than that I feel that as long as the real mechanism still working, if not in a good shape at least in a good cooperative working condition.
Bangladesh is becoming the hub for Nepalese students to achieve higher education, particularly in the medical sector. How do you analyze this trend ?
Well, the feedback I receive from the Nepali students is that they feel very comfortable in Bangladesh. They say that the quality of education is very good and economical. They would like to go there. We are very fortunate that we are welcoming Nepali students. It’s not only for medical but we are also welcoming students in some other sectors like engineering, pharmacy, public health, business, agriculture and so on. The only thing I would like to talk to the people through you is that we would like the students to know that there are many colleges and institutions. Not all of them have the same quality. So, when the students want to go to Bangladesh, we would like them to verify the quality of the institutions where they are going. Because it’s the matter of their future and they are investing a lot of money. So, we always advise the parents and the students to check with other students who are already studying there and to check with the rating of different institutions in University grand commission of Bangladesh. We also requested them to come and talk to us as we can always advise them about which colleges are good and which are not. Then they can make their final decisions.
Is there any mechanism in your embassy here in Kathmandu to ease the students who are trying to study in Bangladesh?
Well, we have our officials who would be happy to counsel any student who comes to them for advice and it is completely free. Anybody can come and talk to us.
What is your message for our viewers?
Well, my message for the viewers is that Bangladesh and Nepal have an excellent relationship and I would like to see this relationship grow stronger over the years.
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