Boao Forum for Asia and OBOR opportunity for Nepal to propel its economic growth (Commentary)

BOAO ConferenceDeepraj Sanyal / Kathmandu: Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ is currently in China in connection to an official visit and attending the Boao Forum for Asia annual conference. After participating in the BFA conference in Boao city of Hainan province, he will then leave for the Chinese capital Beijing where he will meet President Xi Jinping for high level talks. The Prime Minister has already held a meeting with the Chinese Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli in Boao on the sideline of the conference.

The Prime Minister’s visit to the northern neighbour this time mainly has two dimensions – economic and political. His participation in the BFA conference has economic and usual goodwill motives. As the member of the Forum, Nepal takes it to be an apt medium through which it can articulate its aspirations for economic prosperity, equitable distribution of income and a just economic order in the world. Accordingly, Prime Minister Prachanda invited the Asian business community to invest in various profitable sectors including hydropower, infrastructure development and tourism in Nepal. “Our growing domestic market and our location among the largest economies of Asia bear an immense prospect to establish Nepal as a trade hub; a vital link in global value chain”, he said in his statement to the conference.

The political dimension will be in play when Premier Prachanda will hold talks with the Chinese leadership and will discuss with it the whole gamut of Nepal-China relations. This time around, PM Prachanda is expected to take the opportunity of his meetings with Chinese leaders on confidence building, especially in the context of implementing the agreements his predecessor in the government signed with the northern neighbour.

It may be noted there is a general perception on both sides of the Himalayas that the current government has remained disinterested in taking forward these crucial deals that the previous government had signed with the northern neighbour at a time when the country was suffering hardship from an undeclared economic blockade in the immediate aftermath of the devastating earthquake on April 25, 2015. Therefore, it would go a long way in Nepal-China relations if PM Prachanda could wipe out this perception and convince the Chinese political leadership on Nepal’s unflinching faith and commitment to honouring Chinese concerns for a more meaningful cooperation between the two countries in the days ahead.

Leveraging BFA and OBOR

Established 17 years ago around the slogan ‘New Century, New Challenges and New Asia’, the Boao Forum for Asia could be a useful platform to give an international spin and dimension to Nepal’s development, economy and standing. It was established at China’s initiative for promoting mutual cooperation for greater economic development among the countries of Asia region. The Forum was set up with the objective of building an environment for opening up Asia to the world, charting out a new role for Asia and creating new opportunities for the world’s most populous continent.

The Forum is deliberating on key themes as globalization, economic growth, economic reforms and new economy during its annual conference from March 23 to 26 in which Heads of Government from eight countries including Nepal and China and high delegates from over 80 countries are participating. A large number of representatives of the international institutions, business and trade organizations, civil society organizations and media are attending the conference.

In this conference, one of BFA’s important agenda is to take stock as to how far it has become successful in its flagship policy declarations as reviving the concept of ‘Green Asia in a New Asia’, identifying the economic challenges and exploring the opportunities for the continent, addressing the inclusive growth and new challenges, socio-economic transformation towards a healthy and sustainable environment, promoting the feeling of collective development among the countries of Asia and propelling BFA as a new economic catalyst. A thorough review should be made on these fronts. More, the member countries are looking upon this annual conference whether the Forum can determine a new common goal in collaboration with them and globalization and free trade in Asia’s perspective as the main mantra.

When it comes to globalization, how the developing and least developed countries can take maximum benefit from it is the moot question. Although WTO is under implementation, the developing countries of Asia, Nepal included, have not been able to benefit from the WTO regime. And if the Boao Forum could reach a concrete decision on this aspect, it would be the most appropriate and timely intervention in favour of the developing countries like Nepal. Globalization has come under criticism in the several developing countries of Asia, Africa and South America mainly on the grounds that the distribution of the economic benefits of globalization has not been equitable and judicious. And rightly so, Prime Minister Prachanda in his address to the conference, said for countries like Nepal, which is least developed and landlocked, enhanced market access through duty free quota free provisions, streamlined and simplified rules and procedures, trade capacity building as well as trade facilitating measures including smooth transit arrangements would be essential for them to benefit from globalization. The Prime Minister also said that Nepal expects globalization to contribute to economic transformation which is critical to sustain political transformation.

In the context of the Boao Forum proving to be a forum where discussions are focused on important issues of the global economy and it becoming a strong medium championing the inclusive economic growth and development, Nepal should take steps towards and focus on promoting and facilitating the trilateral economic cooperation between China, Nepal and India through the concept of open and inclusive market. The most tangible way to this would be to subscribe to and become a member of the ‘One Belt One Road (OBOR)’ initiative that is the signature project of Chinese President Xi Jinping which is directed towards promoting trade, investment, infrastructure development and sustained economic growth through enhanced regional connectivity.

Nepal can and should take benefit from its strategic location between the two large and emerging economies of the world. It should leverage organisations like Boao forum and initiative as OBOR to its economic advantage. Doing this especially calls for employing the highest standard of economic diplomacy backed by an astute political dealing in a highly complex and dynamic world of international politics. Nepali leaders, it is hoped, will rise to the occasion and stand the test of time. RSS

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