Eight containers roll into Nepal as China opens the border a crackThere could be more than 100 cargo containers waiting on the other side of the border, Nepali traders say.
China has opened the border crossing at Tatopani a crack, allowing a few stranded cargo containers to pass into Nepal after keeping it tightly shut for more than a month, resulting in a virtual trade embargo.
On Saturday, three cargo containers rolled into Nepal; and on Sunday, the number increased to five. Among the eight containers, five were loaded with garlic, two with apples and other fruits, and one with durable goods.
According to Nepali officials, China has not reopened the border, and this is just a temporary arrangement in view of the upcoming festivals.
“The Tatopani-Zhangmu point has been opened only to allow passage for containers stranded in Shigatse, Nyalam, Khasa and Lhasa,” said Narad Gautam, chief customs officer of the Tatopani Customs Office in Sindhupalchok.
“It has been temporarily opened to clear the stranded trucks carrying goods for Dashain, Nepal’s biggest festival.” The celebration begins on September 26.
Gautam said they had not received any official notification from the Chinese government about the decision. “We have ‘information’ that the Chinese customs officials and soldiers at the border point allowed the stranded trucks to pass into Nepal.”
He said that the goods would be forwarded to Kathmandu after completing customs clearance. “We don't exactly know the number of containers stranded in China.”
The Post could not independently verify the number of stranded containers.
Nepali traders say there could be more than 100 cargo containers waiting on the other side of the border while customs officials say the number could be around 35.
Last month, Beijing announced a strict lockdown in Tibet following a resurgence in Covid-19 infections, preventing goods ordered for the festive season from passing across the border.
China closed the Tatopani border point on August 10 and the second major transit point at Rasuwagadhi on August 14. The border closures came a few days after Nepali Foreign Minister Narayan Khadka's visit to the northern neighbour when the Chinese side had agreed to open it for two-way trade.
The Post could not verify the development on the Rasuwagadhi-Kerung border point.
Earlier, worried Nepali traders had said they may miss out on the festival shopping season again like in the past two years when their shipments were held up at the Rasuwagadhi and Tatopani points.
The Dashain and Tihar festival season is a key business event when tens of thousands of Nepalis engage in an annual shopping spree.
Most of the fruits and clothes sold in Kathmandu are imported from China. During Tihar, the festival of lights, the markets are flooded with Chinese twinkle lights and decorations.
Apples, pears, garlic and various other fruits and vegetables imported for the upcoming festive season have rotted in the containers, traders say.
Nepali traders have been constantly asking the authorities to address the issue.
“The stranded containers have been allowed to enter Nepal because of the initiative from all concerned stakeholders,” said Rajkumar Basnet, president of the Sindhupalchok Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
“The Chinese side has informed us that the Tatopani transit point will fully open as soon as the Covid-19 situation is brought under control.”
Basnet estimates that more than 100 containers carrying clothes, shoes and slippers for Dashain might be stuck in Khasa, Nyalam and Lhasa.
“We had submitted memorandums to the prime minister, ministers and concerned officials on different occasions to address the trade issue with China,” Basnet said. “It is because of our constant pressure that containers have started to enter Nepal.”
Nepal-China trade has not been smooth because cargoes have to be transported over high altitudes, and poor road conditions and risks of natural disasters like landslides make travel hazardous.
The two northern border points were closed for several months after the earthquake of 2015.
Last month, the Federation of Nepal National Business urged the government to do the needful through diplomatic negotiations to open the trade route for smooth flow of goods round the year.
“This is an unofficial border closure by the Chinese side ahead of Nepal's major festivals,” Naresh Katuwal, immediate past president of the Federation of Nepal National Business, told the Post in a recent interview. “The border closure problem has been recurring for the past several years. Closing the borders all the time under the pretext of Covid is not a solution.”
According to him, the border can be opened following strict safety measures. “Shutting the border completely harms everyone,” he said.
According to the Department of Customs, Nepal’s imports from China increased by 13.19 percent in the last fiscal year ended mid-July. The country imported goods worth Rs264.78 billion. Exports from Nepal to China plunged by 25 percent to Rs808.75 million in the last fiscal year from Rs1 billion in the previous fiscal year.
The Tatopani-Khasa border point re-opened on May 29, 2019 after remaining closed for four years following the 2015 earthquakes. The border point was a major overland route for trade with the northern neighbour.
China again closed the border points due to the pandemic in January 2020, and they have not been fully operationalised since.
The closure of the Chinese border in early 2020 has affected a large number of Nepali entrepreneurs exporting goods to China. The Kerung and Tatopani border points have been re-opened, but neither export nor import trade has picked up.
The Rasuwagadhi-Kerung customs point, which was elevated to an international checkpoint between Nepal and China allowing people from third countries to cross the border, re-opened in July 2020.