India should cancel the dated and restricted list of commodities it allows to be traded through the mountainous Nathu La pass in Sikkim, a top Chinese official has said, adding that new items should be added to increase the volume of trade through the land route.
India’s policies are not helping matters and the custom’s fluctuating rules that are occasionally loose and constricted at other times are pushing down trade through the route, Yang Guoliang head of the foreign trade department of Tibet Autonomous Region’s (TAR) department of commerce, told HT in Lhasa during the recently-held Tibet Development Forum.
Trade through the route was kicked off in 2006.
Currently, India allows export of 29 items and the import of 15 items from China.
In 2014, the volume of trade through the pass, closed between October and May because of climate, was around ₹28 crore. But clearly that’s not close to the potential.
“First, the two countries should improve the facilitation of border trade. It’s not related to the governments only, but also to the customs. Second, we need to extend coverage of products,” Yang said.
“The Indian government has made a products list which is still the same as it was in the 1950s. It’s not suitable to today’s market environment. We hope Indian government will cancel the limit or we can have further discussion about it, so that we can provide products meeting people’s demands and increase trading opportunities,” he added.
The Nathu La pass at an altitude of 4,545 metres and is located between TAR’s Yadong County in Xigaze prefecture, and Sikkim.
It is the shortest land pass for trade between China and India, and also the highest altitude land pass for trade; from 2015, it is also the second route for Indian pilgrims to head to Mansarovar Lake.
Yang said the development momentum of the border is good but both countries should pay more attention to it.
But is the Indian government keen to increase trade through the Nathu La? The answer is possibly: No.
Besides security fears, there is apprehension that if restriction-free trade is allowed, Chinese commodities will flood India’s northeastern states. Chinese good are available in the region even now but if a free flow of trade is allowed, it will be flooding at a different scale.
“Land trade is not encouraged (by the Indian government) through the country. Be it Pakistan, Myanmar of China,” sitting MP from Sikkim, PD Rai told HT from India.
“We look at trade through Nathu La as a confidence-building measure; it is trading of goods available locally. But China is very keen to open up trade – let it flow,” Rai said, adding: “Their view of (land) trade is different from our over view of (land) trade.”
As of now, it seems unlikely that those views will merge over the rough but picturesque Nathu La pass any time soon.