Nepal, US discuss economic cooperation, COVID-19

Washington/Kathmandu: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his Nepalese counterpart Pradeep Gyawali have reviewed their bilateral ties, including the ongoing cooperation to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said that during the phone call on Wednesday, the two leaders reviewed the USD 7.3 million COVID-19 aid that the US has provided to Nepal, building on the USD 600 million in health programming assistance that Washington has provided to Kathmandu over the past two decades.

Secretary Pompeo and Foreign Minister Gyawali pledged to remain in contact on issues of mutual concern, she said.

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The telephonic conversation came at a time when hectic discussions are going on within the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) on whether the country should accept a USD 500 million grant under the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) of the US government.

A section of the ruling party has strongly opposed the US assistance, alleging that it is linked to the Indo-Pacific Strategy of the US government aimed at cornering China.

According to a statement by Nepal’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “the two leaders shared experiences in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic and also offered sympathies and condolences on the loss of human lives due to the pandemic .

The two sides discussed the importance of development partnership between the two countries, which has complemented Nepal’s efforts for socioeconomic development, it said.

China has been investing hugely in Nepal’s infrastructure in recent years, helping the landlocked Himalyan country in laying new roads including connecting it to Chinese cities for transportation of petroleum and other essential products.

Nepal has been repeatedly failing to endorse the MCC agreement to expedite the implementation of projects under the USD 500 million grant.

Although the two sides had earlier agreed to endorse the MCC agreement through Parliament by June 30, Nepal seems to miss the deadline as the meeting of the House of Representatives has been put off until July 1 due to the differences of opinion within the NCP.

The party is expected to make a formal decision through the Standing Committee meeting.

Minister Gyawali appreciated the support provided by the US to Nepal’s health sector among others through the projects related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Pompeo assured Nepal of continued US cooperation.

The two sides also expressed confidence that cooperation will continue to grow in the post-COVID-19 context with an enhanced level of economic partnership.

According to Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, the contagion has infected over 9.4 million people and killed more than 482,000 across the world.

The US is the worst affected country with over 2.3 million cases and more than 1,21,000 deaths. Nepal have reported nearly 11,000 COVID-19 cases and 24 deaths.

The COVID-19, which originated in China’s Wuhan city in December last year, has also battered the world economy with the International Monetary Fund saying that the global economy is bound to suffer a “severe recession”.

Scientists are racing against time to find a vaccine or medicine for its treatment.

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