National Statement by H. E. Mr. Shanker Das Bairagi, Foreign Secretary of Nepal at the Virtual Informal Meeting of the SAARC Council of Ministers

National Statement by H. E. Mr. Shanker Das Bairagi, Foreign Secretary of Nepal at the Informal Meeting of the SAARC Council of Ministers (Virtual)
Kathmandu, 24 September 2020

Chairperson Hon. Minister for Foreign Affairs of Nepal
Hon’ble Ministers
His Excellency the Secretary General of SAARC
Distinguished Colleagues,

Good afternoon and Namaste!

I feel honored to deliver the country statement of Nepal in this august Council.

At the outset, I would like to congratulate His Excellency Mr. Esala R. Weerakoon on his assumption of office of the Secretary General of SAARC in March this year. Nepal will extend all cooperation to you in fulfilling your important responsibility.

I also thank the Secretary General for presenting the report highlighting the progress made since the Council met last year in New York, and for preparing the documents as well as for the excellent coordination of this meeting.
I would like to commend the former Secretary General His Excellency Mr. Amjad Hussain B. Sial for his able leadership and contribution to the SAARC process.

The SAARC region is also facing severe impacts of Covid-19 pandemic. We are confronting one of the serious health challenges of our time. Beyond its severe impact on people’s health, it has halted business ventures, trade and commerce, construction works, and the social life. The working class is the hardest hit. Thousands of youths have lost their jobs. Millions of school children miss the learning opportunity.

The pandemic tends to reverse our hard-earned development gains, and the progress made on poverty alleviation.
The Government of Nepal has been taking all measures for the prevention and control of the pandemic in line with our policy of “protecting the lives of the people first”.

The Government has announced the ‘Healthy Nepal Campaign’ to actively prevent and control the pandemic. Under the campaign, we mobilize doctors and health workers, security personnel, civil servants, people’s representatives, experts, youth wings of political parties, and general people.

Beginning with no testing facility in the country, we have significantly improved our healthcare infrastructure.
Protecting the life of people from disease and hunger has remained our top priority. We have provided immediate relief and financial as well as policy incentives to the affected sectors of the economy to create a conducive environment for industries to resume economic activities.

The SAARC Leader’s Video Conference hosted by Hon. Prime Minister of India Shri Narendra Modi remained vital to advance our efforts to collectively combat the pandemic in South Asia. The Rt. Hon. Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli participated in the Conference. At the conference, SAARC Leaders agreed to create a Covid-19 Emergency Fund with the voluntary contributions from the Member States to address the pandemic.Nepal instantly joined the initiative. The video Conference was followed by other SAARC level meetings.

We are grateful to the neighboring and friendly countries, including the SAARC Member States, for their generous support and cooperation in our fight against the pandemic.

Finding a vaccine or permanent medical solution is critical to boost people’s confidence and regain momentum in the economy. We would like to stress that there should be universal access to the vaccine at an affordable price, once it is developed. The Covid-19 has underlined the urgent need for a meaningful regional cooperation in our region.

Let me briefly touch upon the activities since the Council met in New York in September 2019.

Nepal hosted the 13th South Asian Games in December 2019, in Kathmandu, Pokhara and Janakpur. The Rt. Hon. President Bidya Devi Bhandari inaugurated the SAG on 1st December 2019. Over 2700 athletes competed at the regional sporting event. The event contributed to promoting the ties of friendship, goodwill, and solidarity among the peoples of South Asia.

Nepal hosted the 6th Meeting of SAARC Inter-Governmental Group on Transport (IGGT) on 19 November 2019 in Kathmandu to finalize the texts of the draft Motor Vehicles and Railways Agreements.

The Government of Nepal is planning to host the SAARC Education Minister’s Meeting virtually in a near future.

Regional cooperation features prominently in Nepal’s foreign policy. We have always upheld the SAARC Charter. We believe, SAARC can be an effective vehicle for delivering development and prosperity in the region.

Meaningful cooperation in the areas of trade, transport, connectivity, energy, finance, investment, education, people-to-people contacts, and health, including in fighting the Covid-19 pandemic, would contribute to the realization of broader objectives of SAARC. While we have made some progress in widening the process of regional cooperation meaningful deepening is yet to take place.

During the 18th SAARC Summit held in Kathmandu in November 2014, we stressed the need to reinvigorate and revitalize the SAARC as an effective vehicle to fulfill the development aspirations of the peoples of South Asia.

However, the momentum has been slowed down. The postponements and delays in holding the meetings of the Charter bodies and other SAARC mechanisms have affected its effectiveness and overall performance.

Most importantly, holding the 19th SAARC Summit has been stalled for a long. The Meetings of the SAARC Council of Ministers and Standing Committee also remain pending since 2016.

We believe that the formal mechanisms of SAARC must function properly. The early holding of the 19th Summit has become imperative to further the SAARC process. We hope that the Council will make an appropriate decision on this vital matter.

Thank you !