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Nathu-la trade gets wider

Gangtok, May 8: The list of items to be traded through Nathu-la has been revised with Indian and Chinese governments agreeing to allow merchants on both the sides of the border to export and import more commodities.

The cross border trade between India and China is conducted only in three mountain corridors, Gunji in Uttarakhand, Namgiya Shipkila in Himachal Pradesh and Nathu-la in Sikkim.

The addition of new items to the list of commodities for import and export through the three land ports was notified yesterday by the Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT) under the Ministry of Commerce and Industries.

Traders from Sikkim can now import readymade garments, shoes, quilt/blankets, carpets and local herbal medicines from the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) of China. Before the notification, the import list was restricted to 15 items like wool, goat cashmere, yak tails, sheep skins, horses and salt.

The traders used to complain that most of the items were of low commercial value.

The export list was limited to 29 items till now. Clothes, tea, rice, dry fruits and vegetable oil were among the goods that could be sold by the Indian traders. Now, the notification allows traders here to export more items. They are processed food, flowers, fruits and spices, religious products, like beads, prayer wheels, incense sticks and butter oil lamps, readymade garments, handicraft and handloom items and local herbal medicines.

“We received a fax regarding the trade list revision this afternoon from the Ministry of Commerce and Industries. The revision has brought hopes for traders in both India and China,” said Sikkim commerce and industries secretary B.K. Kharel.

The Sikkim government had been demanding for long that more commodities be allowed to be sold and purchased at Nathu-la. The traders from both the sides also complained that the items on the previous list didn’t have much commercial value.

“We are thankful to the ministry for expanding the trade list. We are hopeful that demand for the addition of more items to the list will also be considered sympathetically by the DGFT,” said Kharel.

The Indo-China trade through Nathu-la (14,400ft) resumed in 2006 after it had been closed down following the border conflict in 1962.

According to the bilateral agreement, only traders from Sikkim and TAR can buy and sell items at Nathu-la in East Sikkim.

The trade through Nathu-la this year was to start on May 1 but was deferred because of heavy snowfall.

Kharel said May 21 was the new date for the beginning of the trade.

“Officials of my department and the Border Roads Organisation had met recently. The BRO has been requested to clear the snow before the trade commences. We have already communicated to the Union Ministry that the trade will be open from May 21,” he said.

The Sikkimese traders were elated by the addition of new items to the list.

“The revision of the list was a long-pending demand. We thank the Centre as well as the Sikkim government for the expansion of the list. It will bring about a new shift in the border trade and business will be good,” said Lakpa Sherpa, the general secretary of the Nathu-la Border Trade Welfare Association.

“The new added items for the trade are relevant in today’s market. The turnover is expected to go up and we are keen to participate in the trade this time,” said Sherpa.

East District Collectorate is the authority to issue trade passes to the Sikkimese businessmen. This year, the number of applications has increased, said district collector D. Anandan.