Trade: While the governments of Bhutan and Nepal are still working on a preferential trade agreement, the private sector has taken it up to boost trade between themselves.

The on-going four-day international trade fair displays that push from the business communities themselves, traders said.

“Bhutan’s annual trade fair has earned the confidence of the businessmen in Kathmandu,” Lalitpur Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) president Ajar Man Joshi said. “That is why from 20 stalls in the first trade fair in 2009, we have 69 stalls today.”

More business entities are recognising Bhutan as a potential market. “This time we have some big business houses exploring the market,” Ajar Man Joshi said.

The regular items on sale have been handicrafts items. For this fair they have expanded the items to garments, felt items, pharmaceutical items, and hand-made carpets, among others.

An official from the Trade and Export Promotion Centre (TEPC) of the Nepalese Commerce ministry, Tej Singh Bista, said that Nepal has a huge trade deficit with Bhutan.

Bhutan exports to Nepal worth Nu 400 million, while the import is estimated at about Nu 120 million. Bhutan exports mainly minerals such as gypsum and coal to Nepal.

However, there are limitations for traders attending such fairs, which allow for easy interaction among businessmen and forming networks.

The traders pay Nu 50,000 for each stall and the costs of 192 people attending the fair without any support or incentives from either government.

The TEPC executive director Tej Singh Bista said that his government was considering some incentives to promote trade between the two nations. “That’s why I came to study the viability of the traders’ participation at the fair,” he said.

He will file a report to the authorities, who will then decide on the incentives to the traders.

Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI)has a memorandum of understanding with the LCCI.

BCCI general secretary Phub Tshering said the two agencies were organising exchange of frequent visits for traders at the fairs in the two countries.

“This builds better people to people relationship and promotes business,” he said.

Should the governments decide on incentives in future, the traders said they would be able to offer goods at cheaper rates.

LCCI official Sabin Shreshtha said they don’t see any challenges from other traders at the fair because their products are unique.

“Moreover, we issue certificate of origin ensuring that only genuine products are sold,” he said.

A carpet trader Shambhu Vikram Thapa said that sales in Europe, their most popular market, was not good this year.

“I have come to promote my goods here and from what I heard, there should be no dearth of customers,” he said.

LCCI officials said they would bring in more traders in future fairs.

The annual fair was organised by the BCCI after the first SAARC trade fair in 2009. A total of 215 business entities from seven countries including Vietnam, Taiwan, Bangladesh, India, and Nepal are participating in the fair.

Tshering Palden