Economic diplomacy top agenda for Nepal minister’s India visit


Kathmandu : When Nepal’s Foreign Minister Sujata Koirala begins her five-day India visit Monday, the first by the new Nepal government’s foreign minister, economic diplomacy will top the agenda and set the stage for the signing of two important economic pacts.

Support TwoCircles

“We have a long relation with India,” Koirala told IANS. “But it has been disrupted from time to time. My visit will aim to strengthen the ties, clear misunderstandings and add a new dimension.”

Koirala’s trip will also lay the ground for Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal’s first formal visit to India, starting Aug 18.

The foreign minister will open talks for a key revision in the India-Nepal Trade Treaty, which comes up for renewal in 2012.

In the ’70s, the two neighbours had a single trade and transit treaty for bilateral trade which was later broken up into two separate treaties for convenience.

While the transit treaty is renewed every seven years, the trade treaty so far has to be re-inked every five years.

With Nepal investors saying the time frame is too short to benefit investors, the Nepal government had been seeking a 10-year shelf life for the trade pact.

Eventually, both sides have agreed to revise the treaty so that it will be renewable every seven years, Koirala said.

Power-starved Nepal has accorded top priority to hydropower and Koirala will be seeking fresh Indian investment in the sector as well as infrastructure and other key areas.

With the fate of earlier Indian investment in Nepal’s thorny hydropower sector uncertain, Koirala will open negotiations for the signing of a Bilateral Investment Protection Act.

The foreign minister will also open talks on establishing a special economic zone in Birgunj town on the India-Nepal border where India has a consulate.

The Nepali foreign minister will meet her Indian counterpart, External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna Tuesday. On Wednesday, she is scheduled to meet Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and leader of the United Progressive Alliance Sonia Gandhi.

Besides, she will also hold talks with Indian Commerce Minister Anand Sharma, Defence Minister A.K. Antony, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, and Home Minister P. Chidambaram.

Besides trade and investment, she will also discuss issues of bilateral interests, which includes border encroachment allegations, security and the current political situation. Koirala will also meet Indian opposition leader L.K. Advani and Rajnath Singh, president of the Bharatiya Janata Party.

Koirala is the daughter of five-time Nepali prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala whose Nepali Congress party enjoys close ties with India’s ruling Congress party.

The Nepali foreign minister’s visit is also expected to establish a personal rapport since she spent her childhood in India when her father was jailed during the pro-democracy struggle in Nepal and her family went into exile.

Sujata Koirala had studied in Visva-Bharati, the university founded by Rabindranath Tagore in West Bengal, and as a schoolgirl had maintained links with Indian leaders, including the late Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi, to lobby for her father’s release.