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Why Is Nepal Still Holding On To Its Isolationist Roots?

Seventy years after Nepal opened itself up to the world ending the isolationism forced by the Rana’s, Nepal’s modern economic policies seem to be still grounded to those roots. Okay that might sound completely ignorant but I am sure most youths striving to make something of themselves, whether they try to offer their services in freelance networks like UpWork and Freelancer or attempt to carve out a teensy little slice of the ‘high-paying’ international market with their business, can relate to that feeling.

Why can’t Nepal open itself up to the world and accept globalisation?

That’s the question I asked myself, when I first started out with my business. By all means, the dedicated ones will definitely overcome the obstacles realising the potential but that does not excuse the fact that there will be at least one Nepali youth desperately looking up “How to make money online?” and discovering the roadblocks to accessing these opportunities online. This youth, upon discovering that she has no access to an international payment processor, will despair and renounce the possibility completely. Yet, another youth who looks up the same phrase in India who does have access to these opportunities online and is motivated by her first $10 payment to do more and discovers more profitable means to make a living online.

So, who is our government protecting really by barring citizens and businessmen from accessing the international market?

Yes, I have heard the age-old argument of money leaving the country only contributes to devaluing the currency and poses a threat to the economy. Yet, these arguements never come up while endorsing the sustenance of most local suppliers on the basis of foreign imports, ignoring the massive trade deficit with India, and the dismal state of our national production. The move to open up our country financially does not pose a threat to devalue our currency but allows us an opportunity to access international markets with local products, encourages our trained workforce to not accept undervalued job opportunities (Nepali companies offer starting salaries of Rs. 10,000 to technically skilled college graduates) offered in the country, and invites today’s “digital nomads” (people working on their businesses or jobs remotely) to experience the Himalayas without compromising their sources of income.

After all, our government is not opposed to offering our labour force to the international market with disproportionate trade agreements being signed every year. Why then do they bar the technically trained or business-minded individuals from the international market, ultimately forcing them to emigrate?

In a world where new millionaires are created every day because of the explosive growth opportunities provided by social media and the internet, Nepal has been left behind because of such regressive regulations.

What is the extent of the effect this has had on our economy?

The effect of this regulation perhaps stem from the fact that most of our leaders have difficulties navigating even a smartphone therefore leaving them ignorant regarding issues of technology, spreads from the grassroots to large corporations. To understand the practical effects, let’s take our tea industry as an example. Assume a large tea estate produces specialty loose leaf tea. The demand for such tea (which requires effort on the part of tea collectors leading to higher cost) is dismal in Nepal. However, the global demand for such specialty tea is massive. Nepali tea lauded by experts as having a distinguishable quality unmatched in the world has the potential to become very popular worldwide. These estates could sell direct to consumers worldwide, processing payments and managing it themselves. Now, consider a youth starting out in business with a driven personality and a knack for branding. This youth could capitalise on the numerous small-scale tea farmers and sell both the farmers’ story as well as the tea in the international stage creating a slice of the 50+ billion online tea market. Finally, imagine a small scale tea farmer who intends to take charge of his own business. With the internet at his disposal, he could very easily learn tea production techniques valued internationally and begin to export his tea as a boutique farm-to-cup company at a profit he can only hope to achieve with Nepali consumers in the next 100+ years.

Every change in policy comes with risks of course. This policy leaves our financial system vulnerable to international threats. But, we must learn to weigh the risk versus the rewards. With the liberalisation of trade worldwide and globalisation making our world very small, we cannot ignore and isolate ourselves from the global market. Our leaders must learn the potential of technology and embrace it. Our populace must learn to fight and thrive in the world market.

Prithvi Khadka is the CEO of Digital Mercari, a boutique marketing agency specialising in business growth through paid media and emails.

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