Diversifying tradeThe embargo highlighted the need to reduce our dependency on products of the agricultural sector.
It was evident that the push was for growth when Indian Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman presented the budget on Tuesday which included a series of measures that aroused the dissatisfaction of some as usually happens. And perhaps a unique way to revive the sluggish economy, which has suffered devastating blows from the pandemic, would be to risk widening the already stretched fiscal deficit by injecting more money into the economy to stimulate growth. This is a risk worth taking for the Indian administration as any measure is bound to have its own set of negative consequences. Ultimately, the goal for every responsible government is to ease the burden of economic woes on its citizens.
The presentation of the budget in India is a keenly followed event on this side of the border as much as it is there. In one way or another, our economy is affected by policy decisions that affect the Indian economy. Perhaps the authorities in Nepal are oblivious of the situation concerning trade with our largest trading partner, or they couldn't care less. Still, government data reveals a stark imbalance in the export and import figures between the two countries. The data for the 11 months of the fiscal year 2020-21 showed exports standing at a measly Rs90.19 billion, whereas imports from India amounted to Rs886.59 billion.
If history is ever to serve as a reminder of the past, it can be said that it has taught the Nepali administration nothing. Nepal had to pay a heavy price for this lopsided dependency when the Indian administration decided to impose a blockade to express its dissatisfaction with the promulgation of the Nepali Constitution. And it came at a difficult time when the people were clambering out of the devastating earthquake. The people endured shortages of fuel, medicine and other daily essentials for five months to stony silence from the Indian government; but actions often speak louder than words, and the message was clear—the need was to diversify our trade and at the same time reduce our dependency on some products primarily in the agricultural sector.
However, in the past six years, nothing close to this effect seems to have been achieved. In fact, Nepal agricultural imports, in general, soared to an all-time high of Rs325 billion during the fiscal year 2020-21 compared to 2019-20 when they stood at Rs250 billion. A staggering amount for a nation that projects itself as an agricultural economy. The pandemic could have been a perfect opportunity for the country to formulate and implement policies that would induce returnee migrant workers to stay back for the country's sake.
Sadly, our policies lack the foresight to nurture an economically sound country. This would undoubtedly stem the rapid depletion of our forex reserves and cease the implementation of harsh restrictions on individual travellers that limit the amount they can carry or spend. While no attention is being paid to the surging imports, which cost the country a fortune, the policies always seem to be directed at the lowly individual. And as the effects of the pandemic continue, Nepal Oil Corporation has once again increased the fuel price to add to our woes.