Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The border trade at Nathu-la comes to halt

Gangtok, May 9: The border trade at Nathu-la has come to a halt after Chinese customs officials threatened to impose tax on the goods brought by Sikkimese businessmen.

The Indian businessmen started boycotting the trade on Wednesday to protest the Chinese decision, which is in contravention of a bilateral agreement inked by both the countries that says that goods to be traded at Nathu-la could not be taxed.

“The mart in-charge on the Chinese side has informed us that they will impose tax per kilogram on approved items which will be exported to China from India,” said an office-bearer of the Indo-China Border Trade (Sikkim) Association.

The sixth edition of the trade between Sikkim and the Tibet Autonomous Region had been scheduled to begin on May 2. However, no business took place on the first two days because of inclement weather.

On May 4, a dozen Sikkimese traders were allegedly stopped at the border by the Chinese customs officials and disallowed from proceeding to the Donqingang Trade Mart in Tibet with the goods.

“We had taken only listed items such as copper products and canned food but the Chinese did not allow us to go further. They said tax would be imposed on our items. When we argued that we were carrying only approved items, they said that they had nothing to do with the list prepared by the Indian government. So, we came back,” said a trader, who did not want to be named.

The Sikkim traders’ association today formally informed the East district collector, D. Anandan, who issues border trade passes, on the decision of the Chinese authorities.

A member of the traders’ association said on condition of anonymity: “If we pay the customs duty when there is no provision for it in the agreement, then God knows what other kinds of taxes would be imposed on us in future. Besides, the idea behind not levying this duty is to keep our goods affordable. Once the Chinese impose the tax, our goods would become more expensive and the Chinese may not buy them. So, in the end, we will suffer losses.”

It is understood that the Sikkimese traders were also told by the Chinese that their goods would be allowed through only if the items carried by the Chinese were cleared by the Indian customs officials for sale at Sherathang trade mart on the Sikkim side.

“The Indian customs officials had not allowed Chinese traders to come with unlisted items on Wednesday,” said a source.

The trade was completely paralysed as the items brought by the Chinese were not bought by the Sikkim traders.

Only 29 items can be exported to Tibet from the Indian side, while Chinese traders can bring in 15 items, according to the agreement.

Anandan told the traders that their complaint had been forwarded to the state commerce and industries secretary. The secretary will write to the ministry of external affairs which will take up the matter with China, he told association leaders.

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