Statement by the Foreign Secretary of Nepal Mr. Bharat Raj Paudyal at the International Conference on Central and South Asia: Regional Connectivity, Challenges and Opportunities,
Tashkent, 16 July 2021
Your Excellency Honourable Foreign Minister of Uzbekistan,
Ladies and gentlemen,
First of all, I would like to express my gratitude to the Government of Uzbekistan for hosting this important conference and for the generous hospitality.
Connection between South and Central Asia has a long history. Since the time the early humans dwelt on earth, the landmass of Eurasia allowed unhindered movement and contacts among peoples. It allowed them to explore and innovate; to farm and find livelihood; and to build cities and civilizations. Mobility made trading and exchanges possible, which resulted in prosperity.
These two regions were at the center of early human civilization, which was subsequently interconnected by the vast and sophisticated network of the Great Silk Road that traversed through these massive geographies. This network facilitated not only the transfer of goods and merchandise but also the exchange of cultures and ideas, lessons and best practices. The linkage thus had both geo-cultural and geo-economic character.
Today, our two regions live in an irony. With globalization, while the rest of the world got closer and interconnected, the linkage between the Central and South Asia took a reverse gear. Aerial distance of not even a thousand kilometers, it would have been mere a few hours’ travel between us. However, we are among the least connected spots on the globe. Trade between us, the regions once known for their numerous trading hubs, remains negligible.
It is not that the required imperatives do not exist for us to connect. In fact, the benefits of being connected are immense. What can be a greater complementarity than the huge markets and workforce of populous South Asia and the energy rich Central Asia? For South Asia, a more connected Central Asia provides an uninterrupted access to Europe and the Middle East and for the Central Asia, a better passage to the East.
In order to realize the full potential of our cooperation in inter-regional connectivity, the Central and South Asia should have a comprehensive approach that covers the physical infrastructure as well as the soft aspects of linkages of trade, better market access, flow of investment and transit facilitation measures. These require resources and more importantly, political will and commitment.
Many of us in the two regions are landlocked countries and connectivity is naturally the top priority for smooth and cost-effective linkage to the world market, reduced transaction costs, improved export competitiveness, and increased FDI opportunities. It ultimately removes obstacle to trade diversification, economic development, and structural transformation.
Nepal is located between two vibrant economies — India and China. The country sees its geographic location as an opportunity and is effortful to transform its land-locked position through connectivity.
With India, we are working to expand and upgrade the physical infrastructure across the border that include cross border railways, highways, waterways, petroleum pipelines and power transmission infrastructure. We are working to make trade and transit more smooth and efficient.
Likewise, we are working towards implementing various connectivity projects with China, such as highways, railways and transmission lines under the framework of the Trans-Himalayan Multi-Dimensional Connectivity Network.
Connectivity receives primacy in the South Asian regional cooperation as well. The agenda of connectivity came atop in the latest summit meetings of the SAARC and BIMSTEC that Nepal hosted in 2014 and 2018 respectively. Likewise, under the sub-regional arrangement of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal (BBIN), trade, transit and energy linkages are the principal areas we are working on.
The regions of South and Central Asia have common challenges. The Covid 19 pandemic has reinforced that our destinies are not different. Climate change is another colossal challenge to which we all are vulnerable. Many of us are mountainous countries that face particular threats of the climate change. These common challenges also make the reason for us to work together.
I would like to conclude with a confidence that this event will be instrumental in sensitizing the need of better connectivity between our two regions and eventually translate this aspiration through concrete actions.
I thank you all for your attention.