Low trade at Nathu La Pass; China for item list review

Nathu La (India-China Border), September 6 :

China wants India to review the list of tradable items through the fabled Silk Route that opened two months back after a 44-year gap because business is running very low.

India and China on July 6 re-opened trade across the 4,545-metre Nathu La Pass, 52-km east of Gangtok. The move marked the first direct trade link between the two countries since their 1962 border war.

“Beijing wants the Indian government to review the list of items permitted to enter the Indian market from China through Nathu La,” Saman Prasad Subba, Sikkim’s director of industries and commerce, said.

Under the deal, 15 items were approved for import from China such as silk and yak pelts and horses while India could export 29 items from textiles to tea, rice, vegetables and herbs. “Chinese traders last month could not do any business as there was no demand for their items,” Subba said.

Trade at the Renqinggang mart in China, 17-km from Nathu La, is worth about $12,500 a week while Chinese traders in the last two months did business worth just about $1,600. “We were told India is considering the Chinese request to review the list of items as there is no demand for things like goats and horses and yak tail,” said S K Sarda, president of the Sikkim Chamber of Commerce.

“We can’t allow Chinese to sell yak skin and raw silk as that requires quality certification. We do not have facilities here to grade the items before allowing them to trade,” an Indian customs official said.

Two-way trade has been slow, with five to six Chinese traders crossing the border, separated by a rusty barbed wire marker, to the bazaar of Sherathang, five km below the pass on the Indian side. About 20 Indian traders head to Tibet on the Chinese side.

“India has unilaterally imposed restrictions on trade through Nathu La,” Hao Peng, vice-chairman of the Tibet Autonomous Region, was quoted as saying by the Chinese media.

“Sikkim wants the list of items to be increased from 29 to 100 and include local beer, medicines, jam, pro-cessed food and floriculture and horticultural products,” Sarda said. Despite low business, hundreds of Indian entrepreneurs are seeking trade permits from the Sikkim government to do business in China.

“So far we have received more than 2,000 applications from local traders,” the director said.