Uncertainty looms large over India-China trade through Nathu La in Sikkim
Uncertainty looms over India’s trade with China through Nathu La (pass) in Sikkim that was opened in 2006, after being closed for 44 years, said traders and a minister in Sikkim.
Sikkim-based international traders said the Covid-19 pandemic and simmering tension between the two counties at several points along the international border, including Naku La in North Sikkim, may make it impossible to resume trade this year even if international flights and movement of people between the two nations are allowed.
The trans-border trade takes place on four days a week from May 1 to November 30 every year. Only Sikkim-based traders are allowed to take part. They have to procure trade licence every year before May 1.
No change was made in the licensing policy this year. Some traders got them before the pandemic started in March and the borders were sealed.
In 2018, goods worth around Rs 40 crore were exported while the import from China was worth around Rs 3.5 crore, traders said.
Located at 14,150 feet, Nathu La in East Sikkim is around 55 km away from Gangtok, the state capital. The pass was reopened on July 6, 2006. It was closed after the 1962 India-China War.
In Sikkim, many of those involved in international trade feel that the mutual trust among people on the two sides of the border is lost following the series of recent incidents of border standoff between forces of the neighbours.
“It will be hard to revive that trust in the present scenario,” said Anil Kumar Gupta, an exporter.
Naku La in North Sikkim is one of the international border points that witnessed a face-off between Indian and Chinese troops in May this year.
Kailash Agarwal, general secretary, Sikkim Chamber of Commerce, said, “Closure of the border trade will not adversely affect India as traders in Sikkim do not import essential commodities. It is China which will be affected as they import food items.”
Rice, biscuits, confectionaries, canned food, items made of copper etc. are exported to China while blankets, garments, jackets and hosiery goods are imported by India, said Gupta
“The volume of trade has increased consistently over the years. In 2006, the annual volume was to the tune of only Rs 7 lakh. Today, the number of people having trade passes has crossed 600,” said Gupta, who exports food items to China.
Pema Wangdi Bhutia, president of Nathu La Border Trade Association, said, “This year, Indian businessmen initially decided not to go for trade through Nathu La because the pandemic started in China. It is not feasible to start trading for such a short time even if bilateral relations become normal.”
BS Panth, Sikkim’s tourism, trade and commerce minister, said, “Trade through Nathu La is not possible this year. The future course of action depends on what decision the Indian government takes.”
Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his Chinese counterpart signed an agreement to reopen the Nathu La trade route during the former’s China tour in June 2003.
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