Nepali team to leave for China tomorrow

Kathmandu, July 6

A Nepali delegation headed by Secretary at the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supplies Chandra Kumar Ghimire is leaving for Beijing on Sunday to negotiate the terms of the Protocol to the Nepal-China Transit Transport Agreement. Official talks between the two sides will be held on July 10 and 11.

The Cabinet had yesterday taken a decision to this effect, delegating the team the authority to sign the protocol to the agreement signed during Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s visit to China in 2016. After his return from his second official visit to China on June 24, PM Oli has publicly been saying that the protocol will be signed in July.

The Nepali team includes, besides Ghimire, representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Ministry of Finance; Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs; Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport; Trade and Export Promotion Centre; and Nepal Intermodal Transport Development Board.

The team will also make a field visit to Tianjin Port near Beijing to study procedures there. Both the sides have been exchanging drafts of the protocol and negotiations have been taking place.

Government sources said Nepal wanted the protocol to be very specific to avoid any need for further negotiations and agreements, but the draft protocol forwarded by the Chinese side was in broad terms.

“The upcoming meeting will basically focus on the terms of the protocol and try to reach a conclusion,” said the source.

Commerce Secretary Ghimire said it was a negotiating team formed to hold talks with the Chinese side on the protocol. “The government has also authorised us to sign the protocol. If the talks reach a conclusion, we will sign the protocol,” he said.

The signing of the protocol is essential for the implementation of the Transit Transport Agreement which has provided Nepal access to Chinese sea port for third-country trade. Nepal has identified a few Chinese ports ‘viable’ for third-country trade which will be discussed during the upcoming Beijing talks.

Nepal is presently using Kolkata port in India to export and import merchandise goods to and from third countries.

However, it is said Nepal may not be able to reap maximum benefit even if the protocol is signed unless China’s railway link is extended to Nepal’s border point. This is because ferrying goods via road through Tibet may not always be cost-effective and convenient. “Nonetheless, this will yield positive results in the long run,” said the source.

China has already expanded its railway service to Shigatse, in Tibet, which is around 450 km from Kyirong. Kyirong lies at a distance of around 26km from Rasuwagadi in Nepal.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, during Oli’s recent Biejing visit, has expressed commitment to extend its railway service to Kyirong and beyond.

Nepal is among the 14 countries with which China shares its international borders. Of them, seven—Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Afghanistan, Laos, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Bhutan—are landlocked.

So far, Beijing has signed Transit Transport Agreements with three of its immediate neighbours — Nepal, Mongolia and Kazakhstan.