Govt keen to provide security to industries: Sujata

Foreign Minister Sujata Koirala is leaving for India on Monday to do the groundwork for Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal’s visit to India next week. During her trip to India, she is scheduled to hold consultations with political leaders at the highest level, as well as with the business community in Mumbai. The PM’s India visit has received a lot of criticism from the UCPN (Maoist). Sjuata insists she will be carrying the mandate given by 22-political parties, although the pressure from the Maoists will weigh heavily on her mind, particularly after Friday’s meeting of the Foreign Relations Committee, where the Maoists threatened not to ink any major deal with India at this juncture. She expressed confidence that she can use the opportunity to expand the role and significance of the foreign ministry in supporting Nepal’s political and peace process, in addition to economic diplomacy. She is likely to meet Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi, the opposition leaders, the trade minister, the home minister and the minister of defence. She talked to The Himalayan Times on Saturday about her forthcoming trip to India. Excerpts:

thcoming visit to India?

It is strategically important to enforce bilateral ties from time to time. There are many issues of bilateral interest between Nepal and India, but the primary purpose of the visit is to obtain goodwill of India for Nepal’s transition to peace.

Are you going to discuss the peace process and constitution-writing process with the Indian leaders?

These issues will automatically come up during meetings with the Indian leaders. We, Nepali people, are capable of handling our domestic issues like writing the constitution and taking the peace process to a logical end. But we expect India’s continued support.

What are the issues that need to be resolved between Nepal and India?

There are many facets to our bilateral relations — diplomatic ties, economic issues, sharing of water resources, inundation, border management, cultural relations and people to people interaction. Nepal is interested in increasing trade with India and wants more Indian investment. But lack of security and stability are major hurdles. The primary issue is stability, but we feel that there is international goodwill.

What are you going to do about the border issue?

The economic issues are of primary concern. But there are many issues of mutual concern, including border management. We will take them up with the Indian leaders. Regarding the border issue, we need political consensus at home. I’ll talk to all political parties about it. We are meeting experts on the issue, and we need to take all political parties into confidence.

What about trade and transit?

We are very eager to increase export from Nepal and reduce the commercial trade deficit. We want to support a new trade regime, and we want to gain maximum benefits from India’s growth through economic diplomacy.

Although Nepal and India have an open border, we have not been able to use this opportunity due to non-tariff barriers. We are going to talk about issues like double taxation and quarantine labs. We are also going to change the duration of trade and transit treaties. From now on, both the trade and transit treaties will be for a period of seven years.

Foreign investors in Nepal are facing many a problem. In this situation, how can you expect additional foreign investment?

Certainly, there are many security and labour-related worries. We should immediately resolve those. Many of these problems are political in nature and need to be resolved politically.

How do you plan to resolve them?

We are serious about providing security to industries, including industries having Indian investment. We will try to create a business-friendly environment. The government is positive on this and will play a more proactive role in resolving labour and other related disputes. We are thinking along the lines of creating Special Economic Zones, particularly along the Birganj-Hetauda road and creating a special security package.

India is also interested in providing assistance for some symbolic projects. What are your thoughts on that?

We are also going to take up the issue of the Old Hulaki road. We want to complete the project in the next three years. We are keen on support for infrastructure building. We also want to expedite hydro-electric projects.

Are you going to talk about the review or replacement of Peace and Friendship Treaty-1950? Maoists want to scrap that treaty. What is your view?

It will be based on broader political consensus at home, and as per mutual understanding between Nepal and India.

Many criminal activities are taking place on Nepal-India broader. Did you talk about controlling that?

This is an issue that concerns both the nations. Indian leaders are convinced that if both the countries make concerted attempts criminal activities would be curbed.

How do you balance relations between India and China?

We have good relations with both our neighbours, and we will never allow Nepal’s land to be used against our neighbours. If we get the information, we will take action against those who try to use our soil to harm our neighbours. Cross border militancy is our common concern and we all must stay vigilant.

Nepal’s foreign relations require political consensus at home. Are you planning to do anything about it?

Yes. After returning from India, I will make efforts to create political consensus on foreign relations related issues. We cannot keep on postponing solutions to our problems for ever.