While the political parties were out courting arrest around Tundikhel, Nepal became a WTO member. It made this Beed wonder whether a ruling multiparty government prone to party antics would have made our entry into The Club with so little fuss. To all intents and purposes, it seemed we Nepalis left it to divine intervention through Lord Pashupatinath for this membership. So rarely has there been so little public debate on a subject of such importance to the national economy. Even the Maoist leadership had little to say about Nepal embracing the free market.
Although developing countries put up a formidable fight at Cancun to slow the sweeping processes, it looks like business as usual. The US and EU will have it their way and we should not labour under the illusion that the G-21 will rule. Like the dozens of international agreements that Nepal is part of, once again we concentrated more on getting our name on the dotted line than on judging how to make WTO membership work for us. While we all laud the efforts of some of the champions within the government bureaucracy who worked towards brokering the best deal for us, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating.
Rather than looking at what we stand to lose by our alliance with the WTO, let's examine where we have the competitive advantage to exploit it. As the Beed is tired of pointing out, having a market of a billion people each to the north and south of us and not being able to find a niche is strange. We should have been much better by now at inviting foreign capital and technology to utilise our natural resources and labour.
The Nepali economy post-Cancun will not remain the same. The floodgates are opening and it is partially up to us to use every advantage to make trade a two-way flow. We may face a deluge of Belgian ghiu, Australian apples and Indian medicos but there must be a reverse process too. The world should also see more of Nepali tea, garments, carpets and every other industry that has been flailing so desperately for the last five years.
The Beed doubts that we will have much of a say on WTO issues like farm subsidies and liberalising markets. Perhaps we need to be proactive toward implementing the agreed upon actions. This means getting more than 50 pieces of legislation amended or introduced, changing the way government machinery like the Customs Department functions, introducing quality controls and other standards.
Now is the time for our multilateral and bilateral partners to prove their genuine interest in the future of our country. A first step could be to take time off from issues like 'conflict resolution' and focus on opening up the service sectors that have been well protected for Nepali players. There has been immense resistance from the private sector to opening businesses that are reserved for small-scale industries like handicrafts in Nepal.