Miloslav Stasek is the ambassador of the Czech Republic to India, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Maldives. Earlier he served as a diplomat in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Africa. He was in Kathmandu to present his credentials to the President of Nepal and spoke with Terence Lee of THT Perspectives about the relationship and opportunities for increasing bilateral trade between the two nations. Excerpts:
How do you see this region and what is the present bilateral trade status? What opportunities exist for increasing bilateral trade with Nepal?
Asia is a very important region for us and we are looking to enhance relations and bilateral trade in this region. The biggest volume of trade we have is with China, which stands at over 5 billion euros. We have a lot of trade with India and we definitely don’t want to neglect other countries like Nepal, which is also important for us. Nepal is slightly different. We have very good relations and Nepal is very well known in the Czech Republic for the mountains, trekking and as a tourism destination. What we need to do is bring more information about Nepal so that a greater number of our people can visit here. We also have to provide more information on business opportunities in Nepal and that’s why we would soon like to send a business delegation from Nepal to the Czech Republic and also arrange for businessmen from there to visit Nepal and make some presentations, meetings, etcetera. I am very positive about this because we now have the Honorary Consul here in Nepal. Skoda has also done well in Nepal and so it’s very promising and we would like to build on it.
What are your future plans with regards to Nepal?
I am planning to bring some members of the Czech government to Nepal and the president as well. We need to get the
government-to-government level interactions and meetings started because it seems there are a lot of possibilities and opportunities here in Nepal. We hope to be able to arrange these activities in the near future. There is also a lot of positive energy being created here and we would like to see trade and business benefit from that. We would also like to see new contacts built and more trade between the business communities in the two countries.
Of course, there are areas like environment, water, energy and tourism where we can work together. But I think we need a firm and stable government that will run the show here in Nepal and then all these things can fall into place. For Nepal, it is important to diversify foreign trade and have more options beyond just India and China. Of course these are your immediate neighbours and the fastest growing economies in the world, and you can benefit. But there are excellent opportunities to trade with countries in central Europe and others because they can
also help Nepal overcome the current economic stagnation. With growth of just 3.5 per cent, Nepal can certainly do better especially when you look at India and China. Nepal can only benefit from all the economic development that is going on around you and increasing bilateral trade.
What is the existing trade relation between the Czech Republic and Nepal?
The current trade between our two countries is around 4 million euros, which is a very small figure. Of course I must say that a few years ago it was even lower than that. In the last two years only, we managed to double that amount and come to this figure. I would certainly like to see this grow to a different level and we can definitely exploit many potential opportunities for trade that exist and move ahead. We have the technology and investment and all that is required is to try and put things together.
In India, our trade volume is growing by 34 per cent annually and last year our bilateral trade grew by 400 million euros. The companies will definitely not hesitate to come to invest even in Nepal. There is a trade delegation coming to India soon and I would like them to visit Nepal also. There was a slowdown in our trade relations in the past and I would like to revive and improve that. For a long time, there has been no exchange of visits at the government level and so it is natural that trade between the two countries is low. But now we have Vishnu Kumar Agarwal as the Honorary Consul of the Czech Republic here in Nepal, and so I am highly optimistic.
What kind of formal trade agreement or treaty exists between the two countries? Any plans to enhance this?
Previously we had a treaty on economic cooperation between the two countries, but unfortunately that was terminated when we became a member of the European Union (EU). It was affected because we could only continue with those areas of the agreement that did not conflict with EU agreements. This is an issue that has to be raised again and we would like to formulate a new agreement for economic cooperation. If we plan to bring investment to Nepal, we would also like clarity on promotion, protection and issues like double taxation. What we need now is to get this process started but that’s only possible when there is a stable government in place in Nepal. After that, we can formalise government-to-government agreements.
What are the prospects for promotion of tourism to Nepal?
Nepal is very popular and we have thousands of Czech tourists who would like to come to Nepal for trekking. On the other side, we would also like to have Nepali tourists coming to the Czech Republic. I met the tourism authority in Nepal and we have agreed on some points of cooperation in the tourism field. Just last year, we opened the office for Czech tourism and they are now also working in India to attract more tourists. We would also like to bring the Czech tourism authority to Nepal, Maldives, Sri Lanka as well to see how we can work together. We would also like to help promote the Nepal Tourism Year 2011 campaign in the Czech Republic and very soon a delegation from Nepal is going there. Currently there is no direct flight between two countries, but we are working to bring some Indian private airlines to fly from Delhi or Mumbai to Prague and that will offer connection to Nepal.
What are the other important areas of possible economic cooperation?
What I see as very important and an area for greater cooperation is the field of education. We neglected this area for a while and we stopped the scholarships we had earlier. I would like to revive that and also bring some Czech universities to Nepal and establish greater links in the field of education, science and technology.
What needs to be done next to get these plans started and enhance bilateral relations and trade?
I think we must now identify the areas of priority and the areas that are feasible and profitable for economic cooperation between us. We need to bring the two governments together and establish direct links between the concerned ministries of trade. After that we must attract the private business sector to interact through business to business meetings then things can take off. I am here as a diplomat and my job is to open the doors and pave the way. After that private sector companies from both countries will drive the growth in bilateral trade.