Nepali Times
Strictly Business
Common Minimum Standard


One gets suspicious when Nepali businessmen appear on television talk shows to pontificate about the macro-economy. Their urge to strut hard-earned knowledge about GDP growth and the finer points of fiscal and monetary policies is understandable. And it befits corporate titans to want to talk about 'big picture' issues such as economic growth, Rastra Bank policies, unemployment problems and exchange rate policies.

But at the end of the day, many of these conversations do not matter because their conclusions are impossibly vague, and they end up being a bad academic exercise in which everyone agrees with everyone else all the time. Who, after all, can be against addressing the problem of unemployment? And who says that economic growth is not desirable? Sadly, repeated indulgence in such talk-fests has been the hallmark of the way we discuss business policies.

What really pushes the national conversation forward to eventually address the larger macroeconomic issues is the focus on specific activities. These are activities that are in the direct interest of the chambers of businesses, the federations of industries and other business organisations. As such, these membership-driven business entities can easily take up some of these activities that appear below.

Brand Nepal: In Bangladesh private-sector companies in recent years have started coming together every year to put on a 'Brand Bangladesh' conference, in which, together with foreign experts, they craft plans to showcase Bangladesh's strengths to the rest of the world. On a greater scale, China has long been doing something similar.

And India has grown to the stage where its provinces have begun showing off their uniqueness to attract both tourists and investments. Why can't the Nepali private sector come together every year to do something similar to favorably position Nepal on the global tourism and investment map? Doing this does not require the government to take the lead.

Doing Business in Nepal: Every year, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) puts out a Doing Business report. The report measures the degree of difficulty in starting, doing and closing a business in any country. Not surprisingly, there are fewer hurdles in developed than in developing countries when it comes to starting and growing businesses. If we agree that the one way to generate employment and development in Nepal is to make it easier for all to start and grow businesses, then, one activity that the Nepali business associations must do is to use the report to strongly lobby the government every year to keep on reducing the number of business-related obstacles. After all, no competitive private sector thrives in a country where businessmen have to spend more time with government bureaucrats than with customers.

Invest in Nepal: The two activities above-changing perceptions about Nepal and making it easier to do business in Nepal-help set the stage to undertake the third activity: Making Nepal a credibly attractive destination for small-size investments from abroad. Small-size investments because before we get too ambitious, it's worth remembering that we are in a country where capital markets are so underdeveloped that even remittance recipients have to look around to find a place to invest their cash.

Putting the elements in place first to help attract and retain small-sized investments from abroad, trumps all other big talk of large-scale investments.

Next time you hear our captains of industry talk about macroeconomic variables, ask them: What's stopping you from coming together, even with your competitors, to finalise common minimum standards about Nepal as a brand, as a country that's open for business, and as a country worth investing in?

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)