Partnership: Sharing similarities in purpose and ambition, Bhutan and Sweden can work together to help each other achieve sustainable development, officials from the countries said at the first Sweden-Bhutan Cooperation Forum yesterday.

His Majesty Carl XVI Gustaf and Her Majesty Queen Silvia attended the inauguration session of the forum.

Sweden’s minister for social security, Annika Strandhall called the forum a historic landmark in the relations between the two countries.

“The world needs role models on how to deal with today’s challenges. Bhutan and Sweden are important actors in this sense,” she said. “I think that there are many areas that we can have fruitful exchange of ideas.”

Lyonchoen Tshering Tobgay said: “I am most confident that this visit will further enhance the close ties between the Royal Families of our two countries, promote greater understanding between the two peoples and open up avenues for cooperation and collaboration at various levels.”

He said the forum is an opportunity to build upon the already existing cooperation and explore more common grounds for collaboration.

Bhutan and Sweden have a strong foundation for greater cooperation at all levels.

“That foundation is provided by our shared values, the most obvious and fundamental being our strong emphasis on social welfare, sustainability and conservation of natural environment. It is for this reason that I am most delighted to note that this initiative represents a major step towards enhancing our collaborations,” Lyonchoen said.

Lyonchoen pointed out some of the comparative advantages that Bhutan offers to foreign investors such as  a well educated workforce; clean, cheap and abundant energy; and economic and foreign direct investment policies that are business-friendly.

“We have peace and stability; and, most importantly, we have free access to India’s huge market,” Lyonchoen said.

In addition, Bhutan’s economic growth forecast at 8.4 percent this year is expected to be the third fastest growing economy in the world, he said.

Bhutan and Sweden may be small in global comparisons but the two countries set good examples and both have high ambitions. Exchange of experiences and best practices in our countries can lead to new solutions that could serve as role models for other countries.

In areas like environmental protection and climate change Bhutan is at the forefront, the minister said, adding that Bhutan’s forests absorb more carbon dioxide than the country emits.

“In addition it is truly inspiring that the environment protection is one of the main principles in many of the country’s policies,” the minister said.

Sweden is a world leader in environmental protection and Swedish companies and government organisations and researchers have become experts in smart environmental-friendly technology and innovations.

“Sustainable forest management is one possible area where we have great possibility of cooperation,” she said. “I believe that hydropower is another such area.”

The minister said Swedish companies are already active in Bhutan and that there is great potential to build on the already existing collaboration between the two countries.

They are interested in Bhutan and through them ties between the two countries can grow even stronger, she added.

Companies specialised in wooden products and construction of wooden houses are also part of the delegation.

“Earlier discussions between Sweden and Bhutan have shown this is an area of common interest,” the minister said.

The forum consisted of a business round table meeting on sustainable infrastructure development, seminars on exporting to Sweden, chemicals management and on sustainable building technology, and wood and timber.

Bhutan and Sweden share similarities being small countries, constitutional monarchies, rich in natural resources as hydropower and forest, with a strong respect for nature and the environment.

Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry secretary general Phub Tshering said the country is currently in the transition phase expecting rapid urbanisation from 40 to 60 percent by 2020, concentrated mainly in Thimphu.

Hydropower production is estimated to grow eightfold by 2022. The 11th Plan also focuses on strategic infrastructure development.

“Hence, the need to increase and expand the level and quality of infrastructure is required for broader economic and social transformation,” Phub Tshering said.

Sweden’s national board of trade, Open Trade Gate Sweden, presented on Swedish import regulations to members of Bhutan Exporters Association to enable more exports to Sweden focusing on organic food products.

Lyonchoen Tshering Tobgay also called on Their Majesties on Wednesday evening. Lyonchoen shared with their Majesties and the delegates that the government as of now has been able to extend the six month maternity leave to civil servants and that it is exploring possibilities of providing the same benefits to all women working in other sectors as well.

Lyonchoen also said that the government is working on the possibilities of providing nutrition supplements to children and pregnant women. Lyonchoen added that there is a need to have more women representatives not only in the Parliament but also in other sectors at the highest level.

Her Majesty the Queen Silvia said: “Children’s Right is not just about the question of child labour but more.”

Her Majesty has a keen interest in Children’s Right and has carried out many initiatives relating to the protection of the rights of the children. Lyonchoen shared with Their Majesties the initiatives taken by the government on childcare. “Babies occupy more soft corner with the arrival of our Crown Prince, I see our Crown Prince in every child,” said Lyonchoen.

Lyonchoen congratulated His Majesty the King Carl XVI Gustaf for providing leadership in conservation efforts and the scouting movement. His Majesty the King Carl XVI Gustaf has been the president of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Sweden since 1971.

Lyonchoen added that His Majesty The King is the patron of the scout association in Bhutan.

 Tshering Palden