Encounter : Australia keen on stronger ties

Kathmandu, November 9:

These are exciting times for the burgeoning ties between Australia and Nepal, if the sheer number of Nepali students opting to study in Australia is any indication, that has gone up by over 140 per cent.

Now that peace finally has been brokered in our time, like most other stake holders and well-wishers of Nepal, Australia feels only better things are likely to follow.

In an exclusive interview with The Himalayan Times, Graeme Lade, Australian ambassador to Nepal, hoped that this would only strengthen investor interest in Nepal and smoothen the development process.

The Australian government has been extending developmental support to Nepal for over 40 years now. With the changing nature of global trade and development models, Nepal has attracted the Australian private sector as well.

Lade put forth the example of Snow Mountain Engineering Corporation (SMEC), one of the biggest Australian engineering firms, which has been working close to 14 years now to set up a 750 megawatt (MW) hydro power project in far western Nepal on the west Seti river.

Interestingly, India and China are the other involved parties in this project. While SMEC is the project coordinator as well as in charge of design, China is to build the dam. India, on the other hand, will be laying power cables and the distribution infrastructure.

According to Lade, SMEC has been lining up finance and insurance for the project from international sources like China, India and ADB for years now.

“This US$1.2 billion worth project is important also from the point of view of prospective investors. Its success will send the right kind of signal,” said Lade.

It will also help in providing better roads, employment and other services like education and health facilities in the impoverished region of far Western Nepal, he hoped.

Talking about trade interests, Lade also mentioned about Australia’s expertise and unmatched experience in producing polymer bank notes.

Notes Printing Australia Ltd, a subsidiary of the Reserve Bank of Australia, has already printed Rs 10 denomination of polymer notes for Nepal, which have been used here successfully for years now.

Polymer notes that are extremely difficult to counterfeit and lasts at least four times longer than paper notes can be ideal for use in the higher denomination category of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000, according to Lade.

While all notes in Australia are in polymer format, close to 30 other countries across the world are using this technology in one form or the other. Commenting on Nepal’s prospects of becoming a globally competitive business player, Lade said that a lot of preparation is needed to position and market Nepali products in a niche.

“Although a good beginning has been made with the concept of ‘made in Nepal”, he added, there is a long way to go yet.

For extending development aid to Nepal, Australia has clearly identified poverty alleviation, health, education and good governance as the four areas of interest.

Lade informed that Australia would be looking at multi-lateral agencies like DfID and GTZ to route its future development efforts in Nepal. With the ever-increasing people-to-people contact, opined Lade, the relationship between the two countries, including trade ties, is bound to head only in one direction, northwards.