The impact of the demonetisation process in India on Bhutanese exporters raises a number of questions for which answers have to be found.
If the Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal (BBIN) Motor Vehicle Agreement (MVA) were in place today, Bhutanese trucks would be transporting oranges all the way to Bangladesh and orange exporters would not be paying Indian truckers inflated prices to do so today.
Some may argue that the Bhutanese truckers may also have raised their prices but then the Road Safety and Transport Authority could have stepped in and regulated the prices. This is perhaps one scenario in favour of the regional MVA. We could be exporting goods on Bhutanese trucks and paying them in Ngultrum.
Of course, while there are pros, there are also cons to the BBIN MVA, as pointed out by the National Council recently. There will be gains and opportunity losses for any decision made on the BBIN MVA. Ultimately, it depends on where our priorities lay going forth.
The demonetisation process is a rare occurrence. It may not happen for another decade, maybe more. There was little we could do to prepare and stockpile new Indian currency.
But what the demonetisation process once again reminds us is that we’re spending too much Indian currency. The long queues for Indian currency in front of the Central Bank forming as early as 4am, pilgrims breaking down when they are not one of the 50 selected to get Indian currency, and exporters questioning why businesses are not being prioritised over pilgrims indicate that we need to prepare to avoid such situations from happening again.
Besides paying Indian truckers, orange exporters also need Indian currency to pay their labour and for boxes imported from India. The question is why are we importing boxes and why can’t we find orange pickers and packers in Bhutan? We have ample waste wood in the country and we have youth who make good money picking oranges in Dagana. Why not elsewhere?
Another fallout of the demonitisation process was the record low prices offered to potato farmers this year. While the government stepped in and made up the difference in prices offered and asked for, the scenario reveals that perhaps we need to explore more markets, despite the enticement of one of the largest and easily accessible markets just across the border.
India is and will always remain Bhutan’s most important and easily accessible market but during emergencies, contingencies have to be in place to go directly to other markets beyond the neighbouring states, and perhaps even other countries like Bangladesh or Nepal.
The question is, will the BBIN MVA and subsequent protocols help us in strengthening and diversifying our exports and imports. We, the media included, need to dig deeper and find the answers.