Kuensel Reporter Tshering Palden caught up with him to ask about the past, present and the future of the Bhutan-Canada relationship
Tell us about this visit.
Bhutan is a close friend of Canada because our countries have a lot in common. We have a deep-rooted focus on education, youth, environment, and climate change. All of these areas are priorities for Canada and Bhutan. Our relationship with Bhutan dates back to the 1950s with strong collaboration in education.
On this trip, what I wanted to do was to not only celebrate where we are at in this relationship, but also to identify some of the areas we want to focus on.
Education is a top priority for us. We want to build on the momentum that has been achieved in the last five decades. So, what we are doing in our discussions is how can we take what is happening now and extend it. For example, we have some students studying in Canada, gaining some work experience and coming back. How can we increase those numbers and provide an opportunity to the Bhutanese youth to study in Canada?
We have teachers from Canada. But the number has reduced slightly. How can we increase the number of teachers coming from Canada, not only to teach students but to train teachers as well?
We are also looking at new areas such as research collaboration in education sector like in universities or other types of train the trainers programme and faculty exchanges. We have had very early discussions on this. Now we want to come back with specific ideas that we’ll try to implement.
What are the other areas of cooperation?
Our Prime Minister places great importance on climate change, environment, water, and this is a very important area of concern for Bhutan. Bhutan has done some leading initiatives on this. We want to see how we can collaborate on that.
We have a valuable relationship with Bhutan and we want to ensure that our government to government relations continues to grow and we will take advantage of the opportunity to do that.
There are many Bhutanese who have links to Canada through education and family, and likewise, there are Canadians who have been here. So it is to celebrate that kind of connectivity and to make sure that we don’t take it for granted.
I am based in Delhi and am trying to make frequent short visits. This is why I brought with me senior managers as well.
In the past, there have been attempts to bring in more foreign direct investments. Has there been any development on this front?
We will continue focusing on trade and investment. The two-way trade numbers have been fluctuating. They have potential to grow a lot more. What we need to do on our part is to promote opportunities in Bhutan to Canadian companies. There has been some success. We have some Canadian companies that have opened shops here.
We have many Canadian companies that have established their shops in Asia. For example, we have 400 companies that have shops in India and a thousand more that are doing business there. What we want to do is showcase the Bhutan story of opportunity to those companies from Canada that are already here because it is easier to do business here when they are already in your backyard.
This is something that we want to do more. I don’t think that we have done enough.
I would like to see more engagement in agricultural productivity, export of unique agriculture products to Canada so we can bring Canadian food importers here to show what you are doing.
We have explored that we could do something in hydroelectricity and other areas. More work needs to be done.
What are the plans for people to people interaction?
There is a sizeable Bhutanese community in Canada and that brings together people to people linkages between Canada and Bhutan through friends and families. We have students studying in Canada. We would like to see those numbers increase. That will create people to people linkages.
The tourism ecosystem here is terrific. More Canadian tourists coming here will allow them to understand how wonderful a country this is. The people are warm and welcoming.
It’s now incumbent on me to take this relationship to greater heights. On the business side, I learnt Bhutan has progressed quite substantially on the ease of doing business index. Those are type of things that I want to show to the Canadian companies that things are moving in the direction that creates long-term opportunities for them. Hopefully, we will see some more tangible progress.