Keynote address of the Ambassador at the symposium to celebrate 'Five Decades of Diplomatic Relations between Nepal and Belgium', Brussels, 04 September 2014
The Chair of today's program, Mr. Axel Goethals, CEO, European Institute for Asian Studies (EIAS)
Mr. Johan Van Dessel, Director-General, Bilateral Relations, Federal Public Service Foreign Affairs, Belgium
Mr. Peter Nagy, Deputy Head of Division for India, Nepal and Bhutan, European External Action Service
Other Fellow Speakers on the Dias
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Good evening and Namaste!
It gives me immense pleasure in addressing this august audience assembled today to celebrate the five decades of bilateral diplomatic relations between Nepal and Belgium. I would like to warmly welcome you all to this celebration and wish a good time this evening.
First of all I would like to take this opportunity to thank you all for attending this program, jointly organized by the Embassy of Nepal in Brussels and the Federal Public Service Foreign Affairs of Belgium in cooperation with the European Institute of Asian Studies. I also wish to extend my sincere appreciation to all the Belgian friends for your precious support for Nepal-Belgium friendship over the ears.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Nepal and Belgium established diplomatic relations on 19 August 1963. Over the years our relations which are marked by friendship, cordiality, mutual respect and cooperation, are widening and deepening. The areas of commonality in our bilateral pursuits are ever widening. Values and issues such as democracy, human rights, rule of law, sustainable development, fighting poverty, inclusive development, climate change, and promoting world peace and order through justice and equality are of increasing interest and common concern for both the countries. Our belief and commitment to the principles and objectives of the UN, and a multilateral approach to major global challenges are identical. Both the countries have unflinching belief and commitment towards the principles and objectives of the United Nations, and centrality of multilateral approach towards addressing the increasingly global and interdependent challenges of our time.
At political level, we have been receiving firm support and goodwill from Belgium in our ongoing historical political process that is aimed at institutionalizing the political gains of second People's Movement of 2006. The second Constituent Assembly formed after the historically successful elections in November 2013 has been working to complete the remaining tasks of constitution writing, hopefully within the stipulated time of February 2015 as scheduled by the working calendar of CA.
Exchange of high-level visits from both sides has helped consolidate these relations. Especially, the Royal family of Belgium and erstwhile Royal family of Nepal contributed significantly to nurturing our relations in their early formative years. The first ever contact between the sovereigns of the two countries took place in November 1980 when King Birendra had a meeting with King Baudouin during his sojourn in Brussels in connection with his unofficial tour of Europe. King Albert (then Crown Prince and brother of King Baudouin) led an official business delegation of Belgium to Nepal in 1986 to preside over the official inauguration of the first central digital telephone exchange of Nepal in Kathmandu installed by the Belgian firm "Bell Telephone" with Belgian cooperation. King Philip had a private visit to Nepal in November of 1998. The then Crown Prince Dipendra visited Belgium three times, in 1993, 1997 and 1999, the last time to attend the wedding ceremony of His Majesty the King Philippe, the then Crown Prince. Nepalese Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba visited Brussels in August 2002 and had meeting with the then Belgian Prime Minister Mr. Guy Verhofstadt in 2002. There have been other important visits at the ministerial level from Nepal, including the ones from Minister for Parliamentary Affairs in 1993, Speaker of House of Representative in 1996, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Ministers, Mr. K.P. Sharma Oli and Upendra Yadav in 2006 and 2009 respectively. The then Finance Minister Shanker Koirala visited Belgium to attend the Ghent Fair last year. From Belgian side, Foreign Minister Mr. Karel De Gucht, in the first ever visit by a Belgian Foreign Minister to Nepal, was welcomed in Kathmandu in 2005. Such exchanges, including between the Parliaments of the two countries, would be instrumental in developing our relations into greater heights in the future.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Now, let me briefly speak about our economic and trade relations in some quantitative terms. The trade figures for the year 2013 shows that Nepal exported roughly 3 million Euro worth goods comprising mainly handicrafts, apparels, carpets, pashmina, herbs, tea and coffee. Whereas, Belgium exported more than 7 million Euro worth of industrial products, mainly chemicals, pharmaceuticals and machineries to Nepal. Out of the total trade volume of about 10 million Euro in that year the trade balance of about 5 million Euro was in favor of Belgium. Nepal as we welcomed roughly 6000 Belgian tourists into Nepal in 2013. Both the trade and tourism flows between the two countries are on progressively ascending trajectories over the recent years. Our two Honorary Consuls located in the two main regions of Belgium, Mr. Andre De Jonckheere in the Flanders Region and Mr. Roger De Groen in Walloon region, are also actively engaged in promoting trade and economic relations in a more fruitful manner.
In the area of development cooperation, contributed to the modernization of Nepal's telecommunication sectors in the eighties. Currently, Belgium is contributing to our development efforts through various multilateral channels such as the EU and the UN, as well as through NGO's and private sector. Nepal appreciates that Belgium is one of the few OECD countries who have fulfilled or are close to fulfilling their declared ODA commitment of 0.7 % of GNP. Together with EU, Belgium has been placing emphasis on providing enhanced level of development cooperation and favorable terms of trade for LDC's in various multilateral fora such as the UN, WTO and International Financial Institutions. Belgium's hosting of the third LDC conference in Brussels in the year 2001 is a clear testimony to her commitment and responsibility to the global neighborhood. We appreciate and highly value these generous and liberal gestures from Belgium. We are hopeful that Nepal as a landlocked least developed country which is also one of the most vulnerable countries in terms of the devastating effects of climate change will receive more attention and focus in Belgian development policy in the coming days.
We see that our bilateral engagements in the economic fields such as trade and commerce are not that spectacular. But what makes these engagements important in our bilateral relations is the scope and potentiality that is waiting for us to exploit in the coming days. The potential sectors for Belgian investment in Nepalese economy are renewable energy, hydro-power, tourism, agriculture and agro-food processing, infrastructure, medicinal herbs and essential oil, among others.
Coincidentally, this year happens to be the centennial of the First World War. The historical importance of the two World Wars for Belgium, especially the first one, is evident from the fact that Belgium is commemorating that dark period of her history with top national priority. It is a matter of honor for us to be part of the centennial commemorative events of World War I being organized by Belgian Government starting this year as Nepal also lost many of its nationals who fought under the then British-Indian Army in Belgium. The Embassy, in coordination with the local municipal authority of Ieper, is in the process of installing a monument in memory of those fallen Nepalese Gurkha soldiers in Ieper. In this connection, with the objective of spreading the message of peace and cultural understanding the Embassy is also in the process of installing at various locations in Belgium a few statues of Buddha, who is also one of the National luminaries of Nepal.
A sizable number of Nepalese nationals who have chosen to settle in Belgium for various reasons in the past are yet another link in our bilateral relations. These people, many of whom have already been naturalized as Belgian citizens, are contributing to the cultural diversity and richness of Belgian society and economy by their creative and productive enterprises. This is illustrated by the fact that there are around 200 business entities owned or managed by these people, mainly restaurants, which is a fitting area given the renowned hospitality of Nepalese people. We are also grateful to Belgium for offering various scholarship opportunities for Nepalese students. Currently a few dozen Nepalese students are undertaking higher studies at various world-class educational institutions across Beglium. Talking about relations at the people's level, Belgium-Nepal Friendship Association (BNFA), which was recently revived under the able leadership of Mr. Frank Veermisch, is active in bringing our two peoples and their cultures further closer. I am happy to learn that BNFA is going to organize a Nepal Week in a big way in Chaudfontain from 2nd to 5th of this October.
To sum up, while reflecting back on those five long decades of our diplomatic relations, we can now confidently say that our relations have been marked by cordiality, friendliness, mutual respect, mutual trust and cooperative partnership. More importantly, there is ample space for our relations to grow in future for the benefits of our two peoples.
Finally, I would like to express my sincere appreciation and gratitude to the Federal Public Service Foreign Affairs of Belgium as well as the European Institute of Asian Studies (EIAS) for joining hands in organizing this program. We look forward to working closely with them in the coming days in the spirit of partnership.
I would also like to thank all distinguished participants including my colleagues from diplomatic corps in Brussels for accepting our invitations and giving their precious time and thought on this event.