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Pass open, no trade

Gangtok, July 14: The border has been surmounted but the code hasn’t been cracked. A week since the re-opening of Nathu-la after 44 years, trade remains frozen.

Indian customs has refused to permit trade without the mandatory importer-exporter code number. Under guidelines issued by the directorate-general of foreign trade, the code can be issued only against an income-tax permanent account number (PAN).

Since income-tax and other direct taxes are not applicable in Sikkim, no Sikkimese trader has a PAN. Only Sikkimese subjects have been initially permitted to trade through Nathu-la, which was thrown open on July 6.

Claiming that the question of the code never came up in meetings prior to the reopening, the Sikkim commerce and industries department today wrote to the commerce ministry to solve the problem.

S.P. Subba, the department’s director, said: “This was a small issue and could have been cleared before had customs brought it up in the meetings.”

He added that since it was border trade involving low-volume transactions in selected items, the code “was not required”.

The first shock came on Wednesday when customs officials prevented traders from taking items to the other side and asked for the code number.

Anil Kumar Gupta and fellow trader, Sajjan Agarwal, had taken with them goods like rice, flour and spices, but had to return with their consignments because they didn’t have it.

“The traders on the Chinese side were very enthusiastic but were disappointed when we informed them that we were not able to bring our items. They said they would take up the matter with their government,” Agarwal said.

The code is not needed at the two other border passes where trade with China is already taking place.

Customs sources, however, said that at the awareness seminar held in Delhi on exports and imports, it was made clear that the code was mandatory.

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