Operational modalities to dominate Indo-Nepal transit treaty talks

Kathmandu, January 3:

The joint secretary level bilateral talks between Nepal and India scheduled for January 4 and 5 in New Delhi to review the transit treaty is likely to focus on operational modalities at ‘border points’.

The transit treaty is renewed every seven years through mutual discussions. A total of 15 ‘entry points’ are operational between the two countries that facilitate free movement of goods and people.

According to a senior official at the ministry of industry, commerce and supplies, the Indian government is for revising the transit treaty provisions in a bid to control unauthorised trade and concerns over security.

However, the Nepali government seems to be in ‘happy-go-lucky’ mood and wants renewal of the transit treaty as it is. As per discussions held by Nepal and India during December, India wants to tighten borders and shut down some border points, as some are not in use at all.

Talking to The Himalayan Times, senior officials at the ministry of industry, commerce and supplies, said that those border points which are not in use, might be closed down following mutual consultations. Sources disclosed that modalities for border management are being changed with tighter security arrangements from both governments to control unauthorised trade.

As per statistics produced by the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FNCCI), informal trade between Nepal and India stands at over $350 million.

However, businesspersons who are associated with the movement of goods from one place to another do not agree to the closure of entry points as these have benefited Nepal and India a lot.

Badri Prasad Ojha, director general (DG) at the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FNCCI), said, “Automatic renewal would be the best option for both India and Nepal as difficult transit issues such as reducing border points could be discussed and resolved amicably later on.”

He said that in the context of South Asia Free Trade Area (SAFTA), automatic renewal would leave a positive impact as to boosting business and economic activities between the two countries.

If the transit treaty is revised, and some border points are closed down, it will cost Nepali people dearly, as well as businesspersons as the movement of goods will become costly, opined Namgyal Lama, president of Nepal Freight Forwarders Association (NEFFA), while giving comments to The Himalayan Times.

Of the total 15 border points, Birgunj, Bhairahawa, Biratnagar (jogbani), Kakarbhitta and Nepalgunj are significant for both the countries. The rest are not held in high regard.

Lama is of the view that if borders are left ‘open’, India can expedite the flow of domestic goods to India via Nepal. Flexible procedures between Nepal and India in terms trade are necessary, said he.

Surendra Bir Malakar, officiating president of Nepal Chamber of Commerce (NCC), said that there was no consultation about the revision of the treaty, but the ‘automatic renewal’ was discussed.

“India had asked Nepal to be a transit country to facilitate the flow of goods to other countries to boost trade”, informed Malakar.