Nepal and the UAE established diplomatic relations in 1977. The bilateral cooperation between the two countries has since increased manifolds. While the UAE is the fourth largest trading partner of Nepal, this Middle Eastern nation is also one of the popular destinations of Nepali migrant workers. The two countries also share common views on significant global issues ranging from renewable energy, climate change to world peace and fight against terrorism both as a member of the United Nations and the Non-Aligned Movement at the multilateral level. Against this context, Republica's Kosh Raj Koirala talked to UAE Ambassador to Nepal, Saeed Hamdan Al Naqbi, to understand the current state of bilateral relations between Nepal and the UAE, potential areas of cooperation and ways to further promote bilateral relations between the two countries. Excerpts:
You are soon wrapping up your tenure as the UAE Ambassador to Nepal and going back home. How was your Nepal experience?
This is my sixth year in your country. I am happy to be in your country. It is my second home. I got too much experience from Nepal, especially the harmony among all ethnic groups here. Nepal is a diverse country in this region. It is a small country, but it is a big country in terms of its history. We know about Nepal from Nepali workers who are living in my country in the Middle East. They are involved in different sectors of our economy. They are building my country also. We are working hard with your nationals in a number of sectors. They are honest. This is the idea of Nepalis I have. We always trust them.
But there is another aspect to my stay in Nepal and that is I liked the food culture here. All people living together and taking care of their fathers and mothers. I also found people helping each other. This is not something that is found in other countries. In other countries, you can find most people living alone. In Nepal, they live like one family. This is my experience being in your country.
Are you satisfied with the current state of our bilateral relations?
Our relations are growing strong each next day for the best. We started our bilateral relations in 1977. The UAE is not so far from your country—it’s just a four-five hour flight. You can see all airlines going or coming with full capacity. That means the relationship is very high. You can see the number of agreements signed to see our relations. There are many agreements, especially in the sector of civil aviation. We have a separate agreement with Nepal Chamber of Commerce and Industries. We have an agreement on the labor side. There are many other agreements I cannot mention here. We also hope to sign many new agreements including protection of investment especially in the agriculture sector. But we cannot focus on agreements alone. We can focus on how many Nepali nationals live in the UAE or how many exchange visits take place between our countries.
During my term, I highly appreciate that President of Nepal Bidya Devi Bhandari visited my country in 2017. That was a one-day visit. The second visit was of Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal. We also had many ministers from Nepal visit my country. There have been dialogue and discussions between both sides including on labor and civil aviation. We are also supporting each other in international forums especially in the field of human rights and at the UN Security Council. There are many areas of cooperation between both sides.
What are other areas of cooperation our two countries can focus on to further strengthen our relations?
If you are aware, the UAE is the fourth largest trading partner of Nepal. This shows that the UAE is very close to your country. You can use the facilities we have in the UAE. We can use UAE to re-export your items. We can take your products from here to our country and from there we can send them to other countries. The UAE is the best hub county in the Middle East. We are the third largest economies in the Middle East. Our GDP is very high i.e. roughly about 1 trillion 500 billion dollars. We are the 32nd largest economy in the world. We can use the UAE as special support for the economy of Nepal.
We can also use airlines to reach our market very soon. We need to enhance dialogue between businesspersons from both the countries. I think we can also focus on building dry ports. The UAE signed an agreement with CG Group to build five dry port stations in various parts of Nepal including in Birgunj, Biratnagar, Janakpur and Bhairahawa. The railway network from India can be extended to these stations. This will make it easy to take containers from Nepal to the UAE market or from the UAE market to Nepal through seaports within 10 days. These groups will invest 60 million dollars. I hope that the actual work will start very soon. The agreement was signed in 2019, but due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the implementation was delayed. They will be helpful to support the economy of Nepal.
Despite all these things, we have not been able to attract FDI from the UAE. What do you think needs to be done to attract FDI from the UAE?
I think we can start a special dialogue through a Government to Government (G2G) mechanism and at the level of the private sector between the two countries. I think Nepal also needs to organize a publicity campaign to attract FDI from the UAE. UAE businessmen or the government there should know potential areas of investment in Nepal. We know that there is hydropower potential. We know there is an agriculture sector for investment. But officially this still is not raised at the level of the government. We have a special fund from the UAE. They can invest here in different sectors. Private businessmen can also engage in dialogue with the businessmen in the UAE. We welcome them. We can invest in the tourism sector. We can invest in the agriculture sector. We can invest in mining too. There are many opportunities here. But we need opening dialogue from both sides. A dialogue between the governments of both the countries is the best and fastest way forward to bring FDI in Nepal. I hope to be starting these things soon.
What do you think Nepal needs to do to increase the numbers of tourists from the UAE?
I think we need more publicity to attract tourists from the UAE to Nepal. Visiting many places like schools, universities, maybe Nepal still is not in our mind. When anyone from the UAE comes here, he needs a big car to take his family around the city. Most of the families in the UAE are one plus 5. They need at least a car to drive alone. From the Nepal side, there is a need for more advertisement to promote this sector. The government, private sector, including hotels, need to work together on publicity campaigns. I feel Nepal is still not ready to receive people from the Middle East. Most of them come here for trekking. I saw here that Nepal is focusing on the Everest side or very high mountains. But not much is there for the entertainment of tourists. Bardiya, Chitwan, Pokhara. But others are still not ready in terms of the capacity of the hotels. But it is increasing. Before the pandemic, the number of UAE citizens arriving in Nepal was 1,000. Young people come here to discover the country.
How are Nepali migrant workers treated in the UAE?
I think they are treated very well. They are working well. Our country is focusing on highly-skilled people. Most of our companies or our ministries, hospitals or special big companies are looking for special people, mainly IT professionals, doctors, nurses. We need expert people. We need special people to work there. Our country is open for such people. I hope to focus on the business to make it easy for businessmen to make business there by themselves. We need sponsors in the UAE. We are also opening our country for education. We have opportunities in many areas in the UAE. We have many free zones. We have around 14,000 companies working as free zone companies. This means that there are many opportunities especially for Nepali businessmen for education and healthcare.
The UAE will soon be one of the best countries for health treatment. We have the best hospitals in the UAE. How to increase the number of Nepalis in these sectors is what we need to think about. We need them to be highly educated. We need knowledge. We need special people to be working in the IT sector. We welcome them in the UAE.
What do you think needs to be done to further strengthen our relations?
I think our relationship is very good. I think we need more agreements. We need more engagements in the market focusing more on airlines. We can use airlines to help promote tourism between the two countries. We can take our airlines to other cities including Bhairahawa and Pokhara. When someone comes from the UAE he can stay in Nepal for a few days and go to other countries. I also see potential in the agriculture sector. Nepal is famous for wood. We can find a big market in the UAE. We are also the largest consumer of tea and coffee. We also re-export them to other countries. We can take sugar and honey from Nepal to our market. You have cardamom and many other agricultural products. We only need to focus on how to take these products to our market. Many companies will come here to build factories, especially in the agriculture sector. Why not bake here? Why not farm here? But using high technology especially in the agriculture sector. The next important sector we can focus on is education. In the UAE, we are hosting international universities. Nepali students can go to my country to pursue higher studies. We are also a specialist country in the aviation sector. We can also work in space technology. We can focus on the exchange of information. These are some of my pieces of advice for the future of our bilateral relations.
Are there any areas where the UAE and Nepal can work together at the regional and global level?
We can support each other in international organizations; in the field of human rights, UN Security Council, United Nations forums and immigration. We can support each other in peacekeeping missions. I know Nepal is the second largest troop contributing country. We can also work together in international organizations supporting each other. One of the areas we can work together is climate change. The environment is the most important issue for us all.
It seems not many high level visits have taken place from the UAE to Nepal. Can we expect any high level visit from UAE to Nepal any time soon?
I think yes. Very soon. Very high dignitary will come here. During my tenure here, a number of high level visits have taken place. Ministers came here. A royal family member was also here. The visit of the Minister of Economy and Commerce was postponed recently. He will be here in the first quarter of the New Year. Many specialist groups come here for training in high mountains. Humanitarian groups including the Dubai care team were here. A specialist team came here to run a heart surgery campaign too. High dignitaries come here for humanitarian assistance. We have a number of collaborations. But we are not much in the news. We already have many high level visits. This will be increased further.