Diplomacy: The Japanese government is exploring ways of enhancing the relationship between Bhutan and Japan into a horizontal one, achieved through trade and investments, rather than simply remaining a vertical one of donor and recipient, it was pointed out at the 10th annual consultations between the two countries, held in Thimphu, yesterday.

The economic and development minister at the Japanese embassy in New Delhi and delegation leader, Akio Isomata, said that it has been observed that Bhutan’s economy, following a slowdown in 2013, was back on track as a fast growing economy. He said that as Bhutan’s economy and society develops, it was the Japanese government’s view that other areas of cooperation, beyond that of a donor and recipient, be explored and expanded.

The minister said that a more horizontal relationship will be explored by promoting trade and investments between the two countries.

“We’d like to pursue this possibility with the government and people of Bhutan,” he said.

He pointed out that the economic affairs minister, Norbu Wangchuk was recently in Japan to meet with senior government officials and other relevant parties to discuss possibilities of enhancing trade and investment. A second meeting between Lyonpo and the Japanese government occurred in New Delhi.

Speaking to Kuensel, minister Akio Isomata, pointed out that a major Japanese company was already present in Bhutan and had invested significantly in a ferro alloy manufacturing company in Phuentsholing. “We would like to see more Japanese companies coming to Bhutan, to do their business here in Bhutan,” he said.

However, he pointed out that as Bhutan’s market size is limited, a business model that would see Japanese companies investing in Bhutan but exporting their products to larger markets like to India, would be required.

“And we’re now working on it,” he said.

The minister pointed out that the government and relevant parties are being invited to a global business exhibition to be held in Japan, in March next year.

He added that an investment seminar for Bhutan is also being organised in Japan later this year.

The minister also pointed out that the two countries would be celebrating the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations next year. He said that much progress had been made in the relations and cooperation between the two countries in the past three decades.

“We will continue to provide assistance to Bhutan,” he said.

Leader of the Bhutanese delegation, Kinga Singye, said Bhutan appreciated the Japan’s support, especially given that other donors were pulling out. “We’re especially grateful for Japan’s continued support as a number of our traditional bilateral partners have left,” he said. Kinga Singye, who is the foreign affairs bilateral affairs director general added that while Bhutan aims to become self-reliant at the earliest possible, given vulnerabilities and set backs with some major programmes, support of countries like Japan, would still be required for a period of time.

The director general expressed appreciation for the Japanese government positively considering three grant aid and two technical cooperation projects in the last annual consultations held in New Delhi, last year.

Three grant aid and five technical cooperation project proposals were submitted to the Japanese delegation, yesterday. These included proposals for grant aid in the improvement of an irrigation system in Radhi, Trashigang, construction of permanent counter measures at disaster prone landslide areas, and strengthening of a particular medical service at regional and referral hospitals.

Technical cooperation in developing a master plan for the mining sector, enhancement of national disaster management capacity, country focus training for regional community policing, national development planning project, and country focus training on gender, women and children, were also proposed.

The Japanese government is one of the government’s major development partners. The annual consultations serve as an avenue for the two governments to review and exchange views on bilateral economic cooperation to ensure that Japan’s support to Bhutan’s socio-economic developing assistance is need-based and efficient.

Gyalsten K Dorji