Nepal Finance Minister Meets Arun Jaitley


New Delhi:  As India and Nepal look to normalise ties after months of tense relations, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley today discussed bilateral trade and economic issues with his Nepalese counterpart, Bishnu Prasad Paudel. The meeting comes ahead of Nepal Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s likely visit to India on February 19, his first foreign visit as the country’s premier.

Mr Jaitley, who also hosted a lunch for Mr Paudel, discussed bilateral economic ties with a view to boosting trade between the two countries, official sources said. India’s assistance to Nepal for reconstruction after the devastating April earthquake also came up for discussion. India had extended $1 billion in assistance at a donors’ conference in Kathmandu in June.

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Also, Nepal is facing an acute shortage of cooking gas LPG, fuel, medicines and other essential goods as key border trade points with India have been blocked for five months due to the Madhesi agitation. Mr Paudel, who is on a two-day visit to India, had yesterday met External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. According to the sources, during the meeting, Ms Swaraj said India is looking forward to Mr Oli’s visit as it could “further strengthen” the bilateral ties.

Mr Oli is scheduled to hold comprehensive talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on February 20 on key regional and bilateral issues, the sources said. Ties between the two countries had soured following Nepal adopting its new Constitution in September. Sections of the Nepalese population — the Tharus, Madhesis and Janjatis — saw the new Constitution as discriminatory that would lead to their political marginalisation.

New Delhi wanted amendments to those sections seen as discriminatory. Madhesis blocked a key supply route between the two countries at Raxaul in Bihar and Birganj on the Nepalese side of the border, which are used to transport most of the fuel and other essential supplies. The supply routes were opened after Nepalese Parliament last month passed two amendments addressing the set of demand.