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Finally, trade takes off
- Goods change hands at Nathu-la after double trouble

Gangtok, July 18: Rice and biscuits today found their way across the border into China, the first formal trade of goods at Nathu-la since the July 6 opening which has been followed by a series of hiccups.

Anil Kumar Gupta and fellow trader Sajjan Agarwal, whose goods were returned on Wednesday since they did not have the Importer-Exporter Code, became the first to do business with the Chinese through Nathu-la after 44 years.

Around 30 kg of churpi (cheese) and 10 kg of champa (wheat and barley flour) brought by the Chinese were exchanged for 50 packets of rice, each containing 5 kg, and four cartons of biscuits offered by the Sikkim duo. The total transaction amounted to just around Rs 10,000, but was described as 'symbolic'.

'We are very happy that some exchange of goods took place today and we would like to thank the ministers and the customs,' Gupta told The Telegraph. Five traders from Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) participated in the deal.

They owed the first exchange to Sikkim commerce and industries minister R.B. Subba and his public works roads and bridges counterpart, D.T. Lepcha, who had been camping at the Sherathang trade mart since morning. The ministers requested superintendent of the central customs department in Sikkim, P. Lama, to allow trade of goods, which have been lying unused since the opening of the pass.

The first hurdle had arisen over the Importer-Exporter Code, mandatory under guidelines of the Union commerce ministry. Sikkim officials claimed that the issue was not discussed at meetings in the run-up to the opening as it was taken for granted that the code would not be required.

The second hiccup followed when it was found that there was no one to man the quarantine cell on the Indian side to vet animal products being brought from China.

Returning from Nathu-la today, Subba said the government's request of exempting the IEC for traders was already being processed by the Union commerce ministry. 'The ministry is considering our request and a positive result is expected soon,' Subba said. In the meantime, he requested the customs officials, exchange of goods in small volumes should be allowed.

The customs relented and allowed the trade. They, however, did not clear two truck-loads of goods which the Chinese traders had brought.

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