Nepal, China to pen transit trade pact protocol during president’s Beijing visit

Kathmandu, April 9

Nepal and China are preparing to formally sign the protocol of the Nepal-China Transit Transport Agreement during President Bidhya Devi Bhandari’s upcoming visit to the northern neighbour to attend the second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation at the invitation of Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The protocol, which will pave the way for the implementation of the TTA, is planned to be exchanged between Secretary at the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supply Kedar Bahadur Adhikari and a Chinese vice-minister on behalf of their respective governments in the presence of Bhandari and Xi.

Nepal and China initialled the much-hyped protocol of the agreement, which was signed in March 2016 during Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s China visit, in Kathmandu on September 7.

After a few revisions, both the governments have endorsed it for formal signing. Government sources said the Cabinet approved the protocol some two weeks ago and the Chinese government had also endorsed it.

At the time of the protocol’s finalisation in September, the two countries had agreed to formally sign the protocol during a high-level visit from one of the two neighbouring countries.

“The protocol is ready for signing. We are just waiting for a high-level visit,” said one of the sources. “It will be formally signed and exchanged during the president’s upcoming visit to China.”

The protocol of the TTA allows Nepal to use Shenzen, Lianyungang, Zhanjiang and Tianjin seaports, ending Nepal’s sole dependence on Indian ports for overseas trade. Nepal has also been allowed to use Lanzhou, Lhasa and Xigatse land ports (dry ports). As per the protocol, Nepali traders will be allowed to use any mode of transport— rail or road — to access the seaports for third-country trade.

Although the Cabinet has yet to endorse Bhandari’s China visit and its agenda, the Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supply are expediting the work, the sources said, adding the Cabinet was expected to take a decision soon.

Bhandari is scheduled to leave for China on April 24. Her delegation is likely to include Minister of Industry, Commerce and Supply Matrika Prasad Yadav, Secretary Adhikari and Nepal’s Ambassador to China Lilamani Poudyal.

Bhandari will address the Belt and Road Forum on April 25. She is also expected to meet Xi and extend him a formal invitation to visit Nepal.

Xi might visit Nepal shortly after Bhandari’s visit to Beijing. Although Xi has already visited South Asian countries, including India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Maldives, he has yet to visit Nepal. Chinese leaders and diplomats have been inquiring Nepali leaders and diplomats on Xi visit to Nepal.

Bhandari is expected to return home on April 28.

Foreign Secretary Shankar Das Bairagi and the then Chinese ambassador to Nepal Yu Hong had signed a memorandum of understanding on the framework agreement on the Belt and Road Initiative in Kathmandu in May 2017 when Pushpa Kamal Dahal was Nepal’s prime minister. The MoU was signed in the presence of the then deputy prime minister and finance minister Krishna Bahadur Mahara and the then foreign minister Prakash Sharan Mahat

The first Belt and Road Forum was held in Beijing on 14-15 May 2017, and the Nepali delegation was led by Mahara.