B2B: Bhutan and Austria need to transform their friendship into business and investment, the economic affairs minister Lekey Dorji said during the Bhutan-Austria economic forum yesterday.

The minister said that Austria is a potential investor in the field of hydropower, agriculture, tourism, mining and small enterprises (the five jewels of the economy) because it has the expertise.

Some 11 Austrian companies are here in the country to extend cooperation to potential Bhutanese partners. The two parties also had a B2B meeting following the economic forum.

Incidentally, the day also happened to be the national day of Austria.

The commercial counselor of Bhutan-Austrian Embassy, (Dr) Oskar Andesner said Austria is the “hidden champion” of the global economy. For instance 46 percent of engine components of BMW vehicles are Austrian made. Likewise, Austria’s contribution to the global economy ranges from engineering and designs of landmark structures to space technology.

Bhutanese counterparts from the economic affairs ministry said that Bhutan’s policies and laws are pro-business.

Political stability, a vibrant culture, peace, low crime rate and transparency are the selling points for Bhutan in addition to cheap power and access to the huge Indian market.

An official from the ministry said Bhutan’s economy is projected by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as the third fastest growing economy in the world while Forbes magazine has placed Bhutan as one of the 14 “coolest destinations” in the world.

He added that the country’s ease of doing business index reflects the country as one of the best places to do business in the South Asia region. “Invest in Bhutan and take happiness as the other dividend,” he said.

On tourism, one the Austrian delegates suggested new ways of promoting tourism. “When you think of Bhutan, first thing that comes to your mind is the image of tiger’s nest. That needs to change because there are other fascinating things in the country that will attract tourists.”

She pointed that 97 percent of tourists visiting Bhutan are first-time visitors. She emphasised the need to have repeat visitors while not ignoring the domestic market within.

Andritz Hydro, which was involved in the construction of the Basochhu project, will be entering into a memorandum of understanding with the economic affairs ministry for further cooperation.

Officials from the economic affairs ministry announced that the feed-in power tariff policy would soon be finalised following which the private sector can take part in the construction of small hydros of up to 25MW.

Austrian companies also displayed interest to enhance the e-governance system, G2C projects, upgrade the healthcare system, and education and skills development, among others.

There are 53 active FDI projects in Bhutan as of date equaling a total investment of USD 550 million. However, 21 FDIs are investing in the hospitality sector. Asia constitutes 64 percent of investors.

The economic forum was organised by the Austrian Coordination office in Bhutan with support from the Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, economic affairs ministry, Advantage Austria, which is Austria’s official trade promotion organisation and Andritz Hydro.

Tshering Dorji