Nathu La trade sluggish, Sikkim wants more items on trading list

September 24th, 2008 - 1:58 pm ICT by IANS  

Nathu La (Sikkim), Sep 24 (IANS) Bilateral trade between Asian giants India and China through the Nathu La pass on the fabled Silk Route has remained sluggish this year and Sikkim is mounting pressure on New Delhi to expand the list of tradable items to boost business, officials said Wednesday.”Since trade re-opened on May 19, the two countries did business worth just about Rs.2.6 million,” Ujwal Gurung, Sikkim’s director of industry and commerce, told IANS.

“There is a need to broaden the list of both importable and exportable items for boosting trade and hence we have urged New Delhi to include at least 15 more items,” he added.

The two Asian giants in July 2006 reopened trade across the 15,000-feet (4,545-metre) Nathu La pass, 52 km east of Sikkim’s capital Gangtok, as part of a broader rapprochement. The move marked the first direct trade link between the nuclear-armed neighbours since a bitter border war in 1962.

Under an agreement reached between the two countries, trade takes place four days a week - Monday to Thursday - beginning May each year and lasting until Nov 30, when snow closes down the pass.

The sluggish border trade between the two countries is due to restrictions in tradable items - India can import 15 items from China including silk, yak pelts and horses, and export 29 goods that include textiles, tea, rice, vegetables and herbs.

Bilateral trade in 2006 through Nathu La saw business worth about Rs.2 million with Indian traders doing business worth about Rs.1.1 million. Last year, the volume of trade was to the tune of Rs 2.6 million.

Although two-way trade was slow in the first two seasons, about 1,200 Chinese traders crossed the border separated by a rusty barbed wire marker to the bazaar of Sherathang, five km below the pass on the Indian side.

About 700 Indian traders headed to the Renqinggang interim market in Tibet on the Chinese side, 16 km from the border, during the first two seasons.

“There were some restrictions from the Chinese side this season due to the recently concluded Beijing Olympics and hence the volume of trade is not that high,” Gurung said.

Businessmen from both sides of the border were also seeking a broadening of the list of items traded through the Nathu La pass.

“The list of tradable items should be increased and include commodities like locally made beer, medicines, jam, processed food products, floriculture and horticultural products so that business grows,” said S.K. Sarda, president of the Sikkim Chamber of Commerce.

“The Chinese traders have been selling just yak pelts and sheep wool. It is imperative that the two countries decide to review the present export-import list,” he added.

In 2003, Beijing gave up its territorial claim over the Indian state of Sikkim but is still holding on to its age old stand that a vast stretch of Arunachal Pradesh belongs to it.

China has never recognised the 1914 boundary, known as the McMahon Line, and claims 90,000 sq km (34,750 square miles) - nearly all of Arunachal Pradesh in India’s northeast. India also accuses China of occupying 38,000 sq km (14,670 square miles) in Jammu and Kashmir.

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