Address by Dasho Tshering Tobgay, Hon’ble Prime Minister of Bhutan at the Advantage Assam Summit in Guwahati on 3rd February, 2018.

Shri Narendra Modi, Hon’ble Prime Minister of India

Shri Jagdish Mukhi, Hon’ble Governor of Assam

Shri Sarbananda Sonowal, Hon’ble Chief Minister of Assam

Hon’ble Union Cabinet Ministers, Chief Ministers; Champions of Businesses and Industries;

Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen:

I have the honour of conveying the warm greetings of His Majesty the King and the people of Bhutan.

50 years ago, in January 1968, Bhutan and India established formal diplomatic relations. To be sure, our two countries have always enjoyed good relations throughout history. But since 1968 our relationship has grown as never before- into an exemplary friendship, one that has overcome differences in size, wealth and population; a friendship that has been defined by mutual trust, understanding and cooperation; a friendship that is the envy of our region.

50 years ago, Bhutan shed its policy of self-imposed isolation. At that time, my country did not have diplomatic relations with any other country. The entire country had just two dusty roads and a handful of cars. And most of us eked out a living of subsistence farming. Our life expectancy was a mere 48 years, and our per capita income was barely US$ 150. Life was short and difficult. We were basically a poor, medieval country even in the 20th century.

Today, 50 years on, Bhutan is a strong, sovereign country, a proud member of the global comity of nations. Our life expectancy has almost doubled to 74 years. Our per capita income has skyrocketed to US$ 3000. And all our people receive free healthcare and free education.

Added to that, our environment is pristine – we are a biodiversity hotspot; we are the world’s only carbon neutral country. And our unique culture is thriving – we are the only surviving Vajrayana Buddhist kingdom. So today, Bhutan is a modern nation in the 21st century.

Bhutan’s transformation – from medieval kingdom to a modern nation – has been achieved in just 50 years. This was possible because of the selfless leadership of our beloved Kings and the hard work of our people. This unprecedented transformation was possible also because of the goodwill, friendship and support of India, our closest friend and neighbour.

On behalf of the government and the people of Bhutan, I thank you, Prime Minister Modi-ji, your government and the people of India, for your steadfast friendship and your continuing support.

We, in Bhutan, take our neighbours seriously. We have a saying “tha-ring gi nyen da nyiu ley, tha-nyey sa-i khimsa kha-chey” or in other words, neighbours who are close are much more important than relatives who are faraway.

That’s why we take our relationship with India, our neighbour, very seriously. And because of that we enjoy a special friendship with India – a friendship that is defined by the warm embrace and mutual respect of equals. To India, Bhutan is a sibling, not a little brother. And to Bhutan, India is an older sibling, not big brother.

In the past 50 years, Bhutan and India have worked together, as sovereign brothers, politically, economically and socially for the benefit of both our great nations. And We have also worked together to protect our mutual security interests. Indeed, our relationship is special – it is a role model, a shining example to the world, of good neighbourliness.

Prime Minister Modi calls our friendship B4B: Bharat for Bhutan; Bhutan for Bharat. B4B: in just three characters, Modi-ji has defined the framework of India-Bhutan friendship for the next 50 years.

These profound and thoughtful words touched the hearts of every Bhutanese. I thank you Prime Minister Modi, and I hope you will honour us by visiting Bhutan this year as we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of diplomatic relations between Bharat and Bhutan.

For Bhutan, B4B begins with Assam. After all, Assam is our immediate neighbour, with whom we share a 266-km border. So, it goes without saying that Bhutan stands to benefit, and benefit disproportionately, from a prosperous Assam.

That is why I am delighted to take part in Advantage Assam. Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal: I congratulate you for organizing this impressive global event, and thank you for inviting Bhutan to capitalize on this historic business summit.

Just yesterday, Sonowal-ji and our foreign minister, Lyonpo Damcho Dorji, jointly inaugurated the Royal Bhutanese Consulate in Guwahati. This important mission will serve all of North East India; it will enhance people-to-people contact; it will strengthen relations; and it will channel the benefits of Advantage Assam to a blossoming Bhutan. In particular, our new consulate will make visiting and investing in Bhutan easier and much more enjoyable.

Actually, visiting my country is already quite easy. Samdrup Jongkhar is barely 100 km away from Guwahati, so you can drive there in an hour and a half. Gelephu is only 240 km away – that is a quick 4-hour drive from here. I’d like to invite you there, where, in both these places, you will find brand new industrial estates welcoming you; and perhaps even competing for your investments.

If you prefer to fly, you can take Druk Air, our national flag carrier, from here to Paro. You will be in Bhutan in a mere 25 minutes. Once there, you will find that there’s more to Bhutan than our unique culture, pristine environment and friendly people; you will find that the business environment in Bhutan is surprisingly conducive.

For example, doing business in Bhutan is relatively easy. The World Bank ranks Bhutan number 75 in its Ease of Doing Business index. But we are not satisfied – we are already working to get to the top 50.

You will also find that Bhutan is relatively corruption free. Transparency International places Bhutan at a respectable 27 in their Corruption Perception Index.

And you will find that Bhutan is peaceful. According to the Global Peace Index, Bhutan is the 13th most peaceful and stable country in the world.

In addition, there are three little known secrets that might interest you. The first is the cost of energy. At Nu 2.23 per unit, our industries have access to the cheapest electrical power in the world.

The second is our free trade agreement with India. This agreement guarantees us free and complete access to India’s huge market. Basically, you get to enjoy all the advantages of being in Bhutan and you can export freely, without any barriers, to India.

And the third secret is that Bhutan’s small economy is booming. The IMF has recently forecast that our GDP will grow by 11.2% in 2018. That would make us the second fastest growing economy in the world this year.

All this should make Bhutan attractive to potential investors. And it is. But I know I shouldn’t pitch and push Bhutan at this summit. So instead, I invite you to visit Bhutan. Visit us and see for yourself the endless possibilities of working together.

As for Assam, Assam today is on a remarkable growth trajectory!

Underpinned by Prime Minister Modi-ji’s special attention to the North-East, and with Chief Minister Sonowal’s relentless efforts, Assam is poised for the dawn of a new era.

Advantage Assam will drive this vision forward. This gives all of us great cause for hope and optimism.

As Assam’s immediate neighbour, we in Bhutan are excited, optimistic and hopeful. Bhutan stands to benefit from Assam’s growth and prosperity, as we are bound by history, geography, and shared hopes and aspirations.

Put simply: Advantage Assam means Advantage Bhutan.

I thank you Chief Minister Sonowal for inviting me and my delegation to participate in this momentous Summit. And I look forward to the pleasure of receiving you in Bhutan during the week-long Assam-Bhutan festival that will take place next month.

I wish the Summit great success.

Thank You and Tashi Delek!

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