Bhutan has made tremendous socioeconomic progress since the first Plan. The speed with which the country marched on has been the envy of many developing and developed nations. The smallness of our size played a significant role. We have been frugal with our expenses and sensible with our plans too. We continue to look and forge ahead as a confident nation.
Bhutan has now arrived at a stage when it will soon be no longer considered a least developed country (LDC). The nation is poised to join the group of middle-income countries before the end of this decade. Next year, a review will be carried out to determine whether Bhutan has met the graduation criteria and recommendations will be made to the United Nations’ economic and social council in 2021. To be among the group of stronger economies is good and we can only be proud of ourselves. What this implies is that we have done well so far and could do much better in the future. But there are also implications that we must prepare for.
Economic development that Bhutan has achieved yet convinced the donor countries and development partners to phase out their support. Are we really ready to declare that we can do without special treatments or assistance from the international community? Besides counting in the country’s per capita income parameter and the human asset index, have we looked at the challenges and vulnerabilities we now face and will continue to face?
Maybe Bhutan has not much to lose because India is its biggest trading partner and the largest donor. Maybe graduating from LDC groups will help Bhutan attract more foreign investors. But there is a need to look at sustainability and resilience. After graduation, there is only to move ahead. Stepping back is not an option.
Some see Bhutan’s graduation from the LDC category as converging well with Bhutan’s vision of self-reliance. But that would mean we must expand economic base. As a landlocked with mountainous terrain, small domestic market is one of the major problems facing the country. The one area that Bhutan could and should focus on is agriculture. It has been sometime now that media have been urging our planners to make agriculture the priority sector. We can ill afford to waste the precious little time we have in our hands.