The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Roadmap for border trade

Calcutta, July 14: The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) is setting up a task force to draw up the roadmap for increased Indo-China border trade through Nathu-la, 54 km from Gangtok.

The industry association has also submitted a discussion paper to the government, highlighting the action points for the state.

“With both the governments (Indian and Chinese) deciding to expand border trade through Nathu-la, the opportunities are enormous for Bengal,” said Sanjay Budhia, the eastern region chairman of the CII. According to the paper, submitted to Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee last week, bilateral trade between the countries will touch $ 20 billion by 2008.

Besides the quantum jump in trade volumes, the use of the historic pass — with Chhangu in Sikkim on the Indian side and Renqinggang in Tibet as the venues for border trade — will also give a boost to tourism.

But the CII paper has also mentioned that realising the potential will be easier said than done and will require initiatives from both the governments.

“The task force will try to come up with forecasts of how much of the trade will be through Nathu-la and aim at justifying government investments to set up proper infrastructure for trade facilitation,” Budhia added.

CII office-bearers are trying to make the task force pan-Indian with leading industrialists from other regions featuring on it. Former CII president Sanjiv Goenka and eastern regional chairman Harsh Neotia are taking “active interest” to set the ball rolling. As a first step, the apex chamber, which has recently set up a Shanghai office, has initiated discussions with some regional chambers in Sikkim and Siliguri to incorporate their views in the final report.

The action points for the government, mentioned in the CII paper, includes strengthening of infrastructure in Siliguri and making it the transhipment hub for all trade through Nathu-la by developing customs, warehousing and freight-handling set-ups in the foothill town. It has also urged the government to speed up work on the 600 km north-south corridor connecting Haldia and Siliguri.

“The state of the Bagdogra airport has to be improved to cater to large-scale cargo movement and it has to be converted into an international airport,” said Budhia. The CII has also proposed a bus service between Siliguri and Lhasa.

To get more information on the China/Tibet side of the border, the CII has proposed setting up of fact-finding missions by both the Indian and Chinese governments.

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