Steadfast friendshipThe time is right to explore the ways Nepal and the UK can build further upon historical ties
I am delighted to be the first British minister to visit Nepal after the formation of this government. This is also my first ever visit to Nepal. I am proud of the fact the United Kingdom is Nepal’s oldest diplomatic partner. This feels like an opportune moment to explore how we can build on that tremendous history.
In March 2019 the UK will formally leave the European Union (EU). However, this will not change our global outlook, or change our commitment to global trade, development and security. Ours is the sixth largest economy in the world; the UK is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council; and we are the biggest European defence spender in NATO. We are proud to be one of the countries that meet the OECD target of spending 0.7 percent of GNI on development assistance; are home to world leading universities, top class research and cutting-edge innovation; and with far-reaching soft power thanks to institutions like the BBC and the Premier League.
I want to reassure Nepal’s business community that the UK remains an outwardly-focused champion of free trade, and that our economic relationship with Nepal will not change. Nepal currently has duty free access to EU markets including the UK, through the “Everything But Arms” (EBA) scheme. After Britain leaves the EU we are committed to allowing Nepal trade access on the same terms while it remains a Least Developed Country (LDC) and for a further 3 years following Nepal’s graduation from LDC status.
The UK receives goods worth almost £20 billion annually from developing countries, including Nepal. In 2016, 57 percent of Nepal’s total exports to the UK were in textiles, including pashminas and woollen garments; and 22 percent was in carpets. I want to see trade between our two countries grow and diversify.
In fact, to support bilateral trade, UK Export Finance has recently decided to extend the cover it offers— it will now provide normal, medium and long-term cover for Nepal within a total country limit of £375m. In practice, this means we can now provide a guarantee to a bank that makes a loan to a Nepali buyer to finance the purchase of capital goods or services from an exporter conducting business in the UK.
But this is not enough. During my visit I shall also be discussing what more the UK can do to support bilateral trade and investment, and asking which policy reforms may be appropriate to improve the business climate. I want to listen to the ideas that business has and then explore how we in the governments of Britain and Nepal can best respond.
Prosperity is of course not just about trade. Through our development cooperation, we are helping Nepal with investments in both hard infrastructure and the softer skills, capabilities and technologies that are needed to support economic development. For example, our programme for post-earthquake reconstruction has already helped to build over 250 km of foot trails, rehabilitate almost 200 water schemes to benefit over 100,000 people, and has developed new approaches to retrofitting earthquake affected houses. In parallel, UKaid’s Skills for Employment programme is training masons, including over 2000 women, to help build earthquake-resilient homes The UKaid partnership with the Gurkha Welfare Trust in Nepal is providing access to clean water for over 100,000 people. We are also working with the Nepal Police Force, with the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare, and with civil society to help tackle violence against women and girls.
Looking forward, we recognise the important step Nepal is taking as it implements its new Constitution and makes the transition to federalism. Putting in place strong systems and building the capacity of the new subnational governments will be important milestones towards ensuring that the new governments are able to exercise their Constitutional responsibilities and meet the high expectations of the Nepalese people. We stand ready to assist.
The UK and Nepal have a long history together. Often, because of this, people talk about our shared past: about Jung Bahadur’s visit to the UK in the 1850s, or the first hydro project in Nepal built by the British in Pharping in 1911, or the British-led expedition that reached the Summit of Everest in 1953. And it is true that these help give our relationship its strong foundations. But this is a relationship that looks forward, and that can build on these strong foundations to help us tackle together areas of shared interest—like girls’ education, regional connectivity, trade, human rights or fighting the illegal wildlife trade. I’m looking forward to discussing all these issues while I am in this beautiful and fascinating country.
- Field is the UK Minister of State for Asia and the Pacific at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office