Austria’s expertise in agriculture, hydropower, tourism and manufacturing industries makes it a potential investor for Bhutan, according to Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI).
A delegation from Austria is in the country from December 1 to December 6 to explore potential areas of cooperation with the Bhutanese government and the business community.
Speaking to the delegation in Thimphu yesterday, deputy secretary general of BCCI, Chandra Chhetri, said Austria was a leader in hydroelectric power and organic farming, which are also pursued in Bhutan. Much like Bhutan’s, he said the tourism industry was an essential pillar of the Austrian economy.
“The two countries hold tremendous scope to work within the bilateral framework,” the deputy secretary general of BCCI said.
The business delegation is accompanying the Austrian Ambassador to Bhutan Brigitte Oeppinger-Walchshofer, President of Tourism and Leisure Industry in the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber, Petra Nocker-Schwarzenbacher and Commercial Counsellor for Bhutan in Austrian Embassy, Dr Robert Luck.
Economic affairs minister Loknath Sharma said the government was committed to making Bhutan one of the 50 best countries to do business in the world.
The ease of doing business report 2019 has placed Bhutan in the 81st position.
He said that both the countries stand for cooperation. “We look forward to furthering cooperation,” he said.
According to the Austrian delegates, eight companies from Austria from diverse sectors such as energy, engineering, tourism and health took the visit to Bhutan as a unique opportunity to explore opportunities. The visit also helps the delegates find business partners for their endeavours and to deepen the already existing engagement.
According to BCCI, Austria was the 14th largest import country with Bhutan importing goods worth Nu 179 million (M) last year. Austria, he said, stood 15th as Bhutan’s export country with an export value of Nu 46M.
Chief Planning Officer in the economic affairs ministry’s Policy and Planning Division, Sonam Lhendup, said that there were compelling reasons for Bhutan to diversify its economy, which currently was dominated by hydropower and tourism. The question, however, he said, remained about how the country should go about diversifying the economy.
“We have started diversifying our economy,” he said citing the establishment of Bhutan Hydropower Services Limited in Jigmeling, Sarpang.
Sonam Lhuendup said policies related to investment including the Foreign Direct Investment Policy and the Mining Policy would be reviewed during the 12th Plan. According to him, the establishment of industrial estates and the Pasakha dry port would be also completed.
Data centres, BPOs and agriculture and allied activities were also cited as some of the areas of investment. According to the economic affairs ministry, the agriculture sector’s contribution Bhutan’s GDP was 17.37 percent in 2017.
Bhutan has 300 acres of land in industrial parks earmarked for the establishment of agriculture processing enterprises.
Bottled drinking water was highlighted as one of the products that carry high potentials for return. The export market for bottled water officials said were expected to increase by about 10 percent in the coming years.
Officials from the economic affairs ministry said that Bhutan provides a gateway to India, one of the biggest economies in the world. The low cost of electricity in Bhutan was cited as one of the main advantages Bhutan offers to investors.
Bhutan’s English-speaking workforce and the low labour costs made the country an attractive country for investment.
Austria, Bhutan’s second biggest partner in the hydropower sector
Bhutan has a long association with Austria in the power sector, second to India though dwarfed when compared to the Bhutan-India cooperation in the sector. In the 1980s, the first Austrian hydropower consultancy team was in Bhutan to prepare the feasibility study for the 2.2MW Rangjung Hydroelectric Project. The project was taken up for construction through Government of Austria financing and commissioned in 1996. Based on the success of the Rangjung hydroelectric project, Bhutan and Austria co-operated on the construction of the 24MW Basochhu upper stage and 40 MW Basochhu lower stage hydroelectric projects. The two projects were commissioned in 2002 and 2005.
Based on the success of these projects, the Government of Austria assisted Bhutan to finance the construction of the 126MW Dagachhu hydroelectric project, which was commissioned in 2015.
As part of these projects, many Bhutanese engineers have undergone training in Austria, mostly through attachments to utilities and consultancy groups based in Austria. Druk Green Power Corporation (DGPC) has benefitted from these close association and worked with Austrian suppliers and manufacturers of electro-mechanical equipment such as Andritz Hydro.
DGPC recently established the Bhutan Automation & Engineering through a joint venture with Andritz Hydro to design, engineer and integrate SCADA, protection and excitation systems for hydropower plants for existing hydropower plants and those under construction.
Through this association with Andritz Hydro, DGPC, for the first time this year, deputed 11 technicians and engineers to work with Andritz Hydro in India in the operation and maintenance of a hydropower plant in Arunachal Pradesh.
DGPC also recently entered into an understanding with the University of Graz in Austria to send Bhutanese engineers for Masters and PhD studies in hydraulics and geotechnical studies.
Through funds provided by the Austrian Development Agency (ADA), DGPC is in the final stages of completing the first phase of “Capacity Building in Monitoring Safety of Hydropower Plants” through a consultant consortium of BERNARD-POYRY of Austria.
DGPC has established and is continuing to strengthen a team of DGPC engineers in 3D monitoring and precision levelling of key civil structures of all its power plants. This ensures early detection of deformations/displacements of civil structures. Through this, DGPC has already carried out a number of critical remedial measures with the technical support of consultants. The monitoring has now been expanded to include the 118 MW Nikachhu project, which is under construction.
Considering the benefits to Bhutan in ensuring the safety of civil structures and in building the capacity of a Bhutanese team that can continue with the monitoring activities, DGPC has requested ADA for an extension of the capacity building support through the GNHC.