Closure of Rasuwagadhi-Kerung border puts Nepali traders on the edge of bankruptcyThe border point has been shut down for the past thirty-four months despite several pledges made by authorities in Kathmandu and Beijing to open it.
The Rasuwagadhi-Kerung border point, one of the key trade routes between Nepal and China, is yet to reopen after being closed for the past thirty-four months, throwing scores of local traders out of jobs.
Despite several pledges from Beijing to smoothen the trade between the two neighbours, the border has remained closed for months.
Local traders in the Rasuwa district, whose livelihood depends on cross-border trade, said they are on the edge of bankruptcy.
Though it has been months since countries around the world have lifted the lockdown measures put in place to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and opened their borders, major cities in China are still under strict lockdown due to Beijing’s ‘zero covid’ policy.
After being completely closed for more than two years at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, China had allowed the passage of containers carrying goods imported by Nepali traders for the Dashain festival, which had remained stranded at various places on the Chinese side of the border.
The Nepali customs office, which used to see more than 100 containers pass daily before late January 2020, said hardly 14 containers pass a day through the route nowadays.
The movement of people is still prohibited through the Rasuwagadhi border.
Initially, China closed its border in early 2020 because of heavy snowfall and the Lhosar festival. However, Covid-19, which originated in Wuhan of China and was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation on March 11, 2020, compelled countries to close their borders and impose lockdown measures to prevent the disease from spreading.
The closure of the Rasuwagadhi border continued because of the pandemic.
Besides Covid-19, poor infrastructure on the Nepali side and frequent landslides have added to the uncertainty of operating the Rasuwagadhi trade point to its full potential.
While China has already reconstructed its infrastructure damaged by earthquakes, Nepali authorities are yet to complete the reconstruction works.
“There are new buildings, a two-lane blacktopped road and modern equipment on the Chinese side,” according to local traders. “But the road on the Nepali side is full of potholes.”
It gets filled with silt even after the slightest rainfall and is covered with a cloud of dust on a sunny day.
Nepali customs officials have been working through a temporary shelter made on the roadside at Timure. It lacks the equipment such as vehicle X-ray machines and metal detectors required to examine the containers.
The work of the dry port at Timure being constructed with Chinese assistance is yet to be completed.
The international norms require immigration, customs, quarantine, bank and other necessary offices to be at the same place at transit points.
However, the dry port and unified administration building under construction have not made any considerable progress even after eight years since the work began.
Traders say it has made vehicle inspection more tedious.
“The temporary customs yard is not sufficient to accommodate the imported goods,” said Dharma Poudel, a local trader. “They are being kept in the open air which exposes the goods to the greater risk of rain damage and theft.”
The road connecting Rasuwagadhi to Kathmandu has also been in a dilapidated condition for years.
Traders who have invested heavily by taking millions in loans have been facing hardships in continuing their business.
“If the situation remains the same, we will have no other option but to scrap our business and leave for foreign employment,” said Sanjeev Amatya, a local trader.
Rasuwagadhi came into the limelight after being neglected for decades since the earthquakes of 2015 and the subsequent blockade by India.
Nepal imported necessary items, including petroleum products, through the route during the blockade.
Now again, the Rasuwagadhi has been in the limelight as China has agreed to construct a railway through the route connecting the two countries.
Uplifting the condition of Rasuwagadhi has always been an agenda of the federal as well as the local governments.
Despite many talks, no significant works have been carried out to materialise it, said Amatya.
Following the ritualistic tradition of making big promises to lure voters, the candidates for Sunday’s federal and provincial assembly elections have once again promised to address the issues surrounding the Rasuwagadhi. However, locals are sceptical.
“Rasuwagadhi custom point has been an important agenda of candidates, however, they have not been able to address the issues of local traders,” said Amatya.