India, China to reopen Silk Route

Nathu La, September 11:

Chinese silk, yak tails and raw wool are among things to hit Indian markets with the reopening of the age-old Silk Route for border trading from October. Perched at an altitude of about 4,500-m and some 52-km east of Gangtok, capital of the northeastern state of Sikkim, the sensitive border pass of Nathu La is all set to bustle with activity. “There is tremendous enthusiasm with border trading expected to begin from October 2 with the reopening of the traditional Silk Route,” B B Gooroong, a Sikkim government spokesperson, said. Nathu La, overlooking the Chumbhi Valley of Tibet, was a major border trading point between the two countries until the bitter boundary spat between India and China in 1962. The two countries in 2003 agreed to reopen border trading here. “Infrastructure development and construction of roads leading to Nathu La is going on at a brisk pace and everything should be complete before the deadline,” Gooroong said.

The items of export include vegetables, blankets, tea, coffee, textiles, watches, shoes, canned food, tobacco, rice and dry fruits. The import items are goat skin, sheep skin, sheep wool, raw silk, yak tail, china clay, goat wool or pashmina,” a Sikkim industry official said.

The prospects of border trade have generated lot of interest among the locals in the tiny state with the small village of Sherathang, about 5.0-km from the Nathu La pass, likely to be the business hub. “Once trading resumes, economy of the region would change for the better and the tourism sector would get a tremendous boost,” chief minister of Sikkim Pawan Kumar Chamling said.

“Once this route is opened, there would be immense possibilities of trade and commerce,” he added. Currently India’s trade with China is around $5 billion. According to a report prepared by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), the growth in bilateral trade between the two countries was projected at almost $10 billion within three years of opening up of the Nathu La Pass. “People in the state are really excited and waiting for trading to begin. Things would change and we hope to earn handsomely,” said Lhap Thshering, a community elder in Sherathang. “Many youths could earn a living now by opening hotels and engaging in transport business with border trade likely to resume.”