Chobhar dry port attracts few tradersLess than two dozen container trucks have arrived here since it opened in April, officials say.
Chobhar dry port launched in April with much hoopla, but the modern facility has attracted few traders. Officials say less than two dozen container trucks have arrived here since it opened.
Built at the south-western edge of Kathmandu Valley at a cost of Rs1.54 billion, the Inland Clearance Depot offers customs clearance services, saving importers a trip to the border checkpoint to clear their cargo.
Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba inaugurated the infrastructure, which is spread over 11.77 hectares.
“Traders say that without an expressway linking it to the border, transporting goods to Chobhar dry port is a hassle,” said Ashish Gajurel, executive director of the Nepal Intermodal Transport Development Board which operates the inland depot.
According to traders, travel time would be shortened if there was a Kathmandu-Tarai expressway.
The dry port offers 35,000 square feet of parking space which is large enough to accommodate 500 containers and 500 trucks. There are three buildings containing customs offices, quarantine facility and security, three warehouses, storage shed, three weighing machines, electric sub-station and boundary lights.
"Traders have been opening letters of credit (LC) to import goods that will enter the country through Bhairahawa, Biratnagar and Birgunj. Since it normally takes three months for the shipments to arrive after the LC is opened, maybe Chobhar dry port will see more activity then," Gajurel said.
“It may take a few months for the dry port to get into full swing,” he said.
Officials say that customs agents are not keen to clear their shipments at Chobhar dry port even though it is cheaper than at the border checkpoints.
“It is cheaper to clear goods at Chobhar dry port compared to Birgunj. Since there is little traffic at the new facility, paperwork moves faster than at Birgunj or Biratnagar dry ports. The parking fees are lower too,” Gajurel said.
The fee for weighing goods is half of what is charged at Birgunj Integrated Check Post, and the container handling charge is 20 percent lower, according to a port official.
“We have been repeatedly communicating with the private sector and traders highlighting the features of Chobhar dry port. But there is not much interest so far,” Gajurel said.
"The private sector was enthusiastic when construction work began. Now, they are not responding," Gajurel said.
“New infrastructure should be marketed well. This applies to Chobhar dry port too,” said Deepak Raj Joshi, director general of the Confederation of Nepalese Industries. “We don’t see any marketing approach informing potential traders about the new facility,” he said.
Nepal's second international airport after Kathmandu, which opened in the southern city of Bhairahawa on May 16, seems to have the same problem, insiders said. Gautam Buddha International Airport has been able to attract only one foreign airline so far. Jazeera Airways flies thrice a week to Kuwait.
Joshi said that to attract operators, new facilities should launch schemes by offering incentives.
“This marketing strategy is applicable to all new facilities around the world. A country like Nepal needs modern infrastructure, but it also needs smart efforts to make them operational in an effective way," Joshi said.
"The proposed Kathmandu-Tarai expressway will definitely add relevance to the port in the coming years," he said.
Around 70 percent of all imported goods that enter Nepal are consumed in Kathmandu Valley, and planners thought a dry port here would make life easier for traders.
According to the Department of Customs, Nepal imported goods worth Rs1.76 trillion in the first 11 months of the current fiscal year ended mid-June, up 28 percent year-on-year. Exports in the same period were valued at Rs185.83 billion.
Nepal’s total foreign trade reached Rs1.94 trillion in the first 11 months of the current fiscal year, up 30 percent year-on-year. The value of the total foreign trade in the last fiscal year 2020-21 was Rs1.68 trillion.
The Nepal Intermodal Transport Development Board, a government agency, is currently running the depot, but the facility will be handed over to the private sector through a competitive bidding process, according to officials.
The then Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli laid the foundation stone for Chobhar dry port on January 18, 2019. It was built with a loan from the World Bank, and construction work was completed last June.