Ties in the age of TrumpThere have been fears in Nepal that new US President Trump could live up to his electoral promise of disengagement from global issues.
There have been fears in Nepal that new US President Trump could live up to his electoral promise of disengagement from global issues. The arrival of a US delegation to Nepal led by Nancy Pelosi, leader of the Democratic Party in the House of Representatives, has provided some reassurance: she stressed that the 70-year-old ties will not be affected by the change in government in the US.
The US has played a crucial role in Nepal ever since we started opening up to the outside world in 1951. And when the Point IV Agreement was signed on January 23, 1951, USAID (originally known as the US Operations Mission or USOM) became Nepal’s first bilateral donor. The malaria eradication programme was the first resounding success of this partnership. In 1951, one in every four Nepali suffered from malaria and the Tarai was inhabitable. Joint efforts of USAID and the Government of Nepal led to malaria eradication and opened up a huge swathe of fertile land for farming. This was to be the first among many successful initiatives.
In recent years, the US influence on the Nepali educational system has also been remarkable. USAID introduced the first literacy and distance learning programmes in Nepal, and now, more than 500 Nepalis have studied, done research or taught in the US under the auspices of the United States Educational Foundation in Nepal. After Australia and Japan, the US has consistently been the third most favoured destination among Nepali students; Nepalis represent 5 percent of the total international student population enrolled in the US in the academic year 2015-2016, according to the Institute of International Education.
However, it is unfortunate that the ties have little to show in terms of economic engagement. Though Nepal profits from a trade surplus with the world’s largest economy, the trade volume remains dismal. In the fiscal year 2015-2016, shipments to the US totalled $89million, with $129million in bilateral trade. Compare this with countries with similar populations, such as Peru, with 31 million people (bilateral trade: $14 billion in 2015). This is more than 100 times our trade volume with the US.
While Prime Minister Dahal has expressed confidence that relations between the US and Nepal would reach new heights during President Trump’s term in office, this will need more than optimism. While it is still early days for President Trump, there are question marks over how he treats the immigrant population, including foreign students, many of whom end up staying on in the US. This is one area where tens of thousands of Nepali students and their parents will keep a close watch on whatever the claims made by the visiting delegates this week.