Nepal must utilise the Chinese ports to give a boost to third country trade and reduce the ballooning trade deficit
Nepal and China are all set to sign the protocol of the Nepal-China Transit Transport Agreement (TTA) during President Bidhya Devi Bhandari’s upcoming visit to China, where she is scheduled to attend the second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation (BRFIC). President Bhandari is paying her first ever official visit to the northern neighbour at the invitation of her Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping on April 24. The protocol of the TTA will be signed and exchanged between Secretary at the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supplies Kedar Bahadur Adhikari and Chinese vice-minister on behalf of their respective governments in the presence of Presidents Bhandari and Xi. Nepal and China initialled the protocol on the TTA in Kathmandu on September 7 last year. Earlier, Nepal and China had agreed on the transit transport agreement during PM KP Sharma Oli’s visit to China in March 2016. Both the governments have already endorsed the protocol on the TTA for formal signing. Both the sides had also agreed to formally sign the protocol during a high-level visit from one of the two countries.
The protocol on the TTA holds significance for Nepal as it allows the landlocked country to use four seaports, namely Shenzen, Lianyungang, Zhanjiang and Tianjin and three dry ports at Lanzhou, Lhasa and Xigatse, where China has already built a railway line. These ports will end Nepal’s sole dependency on the Indian ports for overseas trade. Once the TTA comes into operation, Nepal will be land-linked with the world’s second biggest economy as she can use either rail or road to access the designated seaports for third-country trade. The government will soon endorse President Bhandari’s visit and its agenda. She is scheduled to leave for China on April 24 and address the Forum on April 25. She will meet her Chinese counterpart and extend him a formal invitation to visit Nepal. Xi is likely to pay the first ever official visit to Nepal shortly after Bhandari’s visit to Beijing. No high-level visit has been made from the Chinese side since Premier Wen Jiabao visited Nepal in January 2012.
After the protocol on the TTA is signed, Nepal will be free to use the Chinese seaports and dry ports, which should give a boost to Nepal’s economy, for third country trade as far away as Europe, Russia, Japan and Korea. The electronic tracking system, which is now being used for Nepal-bound cargo from Indian ports, can also be used for shipments from Chinese seaports to make third country trade hassle-free. The Nepali business community must learn to utilise these ports to the maximum possible, not only for import of goods but also for export to other countries. However, before this can be done, the Nepal government must quickly upgrade the 82-km-long road from Galchhi to Syphrubesi, Rasuwa to utilise the Chinese ports. With the right policy in place, Nepal can also attract more Chinese investment to produce goods at competitive prices for export. This way, containers entering Nepal loaded with imported goods will not have to return empty. With China ready to link Nepal with a railway line in the near future under the Belt and Road Initiative, the TTA will be a milestone in enhancing trade with countries of the Far East and Europe.
School for all
It’s been quite a few years since the government has been launching the school enrollment drive in different parts of the country just before the start of the new session, and with considerable success. Quite unlike many countries, the government (at different levels), political parties, religious organisations and the people at large stand together when it comes to giving an education to children. But even then, quite a large number of children of school-going age are not in school, which means something is wrong. Even in the Kathmandu metropolis, 3 per cent of children aged between 5 and 10 are out of school. The situation could be worse in the remote districts.
Once enrolled, retaining children until they complete secondary school has been even more challenging. So it is necessary that the stakeholders look into the different reasons that are keeping children away from school. Maybe incentives to the children and their parents and more facilities in the school will help enroll more children and also retain them. They could range from mid-day meals to having separate toilets for girls. Whatever one does, it all boils down to allocating more resources to education.
A version of this article appears in print on April 11, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.