Exhibitors of the 9th Bhutan India Regional Friendship Trade Fair (BIRFTF) say they suffered loss this year.

One of the Indian exhibitors, Ladla, 22, managed to sell only two carpets during the five-day exhibition organised by the Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI).

Another exhibitor from West Bengal, Vinod Kumar Agrahara, said that unlike the past exhibitions there were no customers this time.

“It is a really bad time for the organisers to conduct the fair. There are hardly any people visiting the stalls.”

The 40-year-old businessman said when the trade fair was conducted in January last year people from places like Bumthang, Paro, Trashigang and Thimphu attended the exhibition.

Exhibitors are charged Nu 7,000 for each stall a day. “The expenses for transportation and the accommodation for the workers is more than the revenue we make from the sale,” he said. “Forget about making profits, we had to spend this time.”

Dilshad Anwar from Uttar Pradesh participated in the trade fair since its inception nine years ago.

“This might be the first time where every exhibitor have to leave with a loss. I’ve already lost about Nu 100,000,” he said. “The only way we can recover from our losses is if the organisers extend the exhibition for few more days.”    

BCCI’s regional secretary in Gelephu, Kelzang, said that business is not as usual this year at the exhibition mainly because of the ill timing of the trade fair.

He said that in the past, the exhibition was organised towards the end of January.

“We could not arrange it so this year because there was more than a month-long religious programme here in Gelephu and the ground was occupied,” said the secretary. “We could not take the exhibition to other locations because it would have been off-location and again bad for business.”

Kelzang said that initially the trade fair was planned in Trashigang following a request from the people there. “However, given the long distance the Indian exhibitors had to travel, Gelephu was selected to host the event.”

He said that although the business this time has not been good for many exhibitors, they couldn’t extend the event. “We have a standing rule that the trade fair cannot exceed more than five days.”

The secretary said that one of the main reasons to organise the trade fair was to establish good relationship between Bhutanese and Indian dealers. “We expect people to people relation to expand through such events. However, not many have good things to say about trade fair.”

He said there is hardly any Bhutanese businessman coming to the fair and learning how the Indian dealers exhibit their products to the customers.

He added that many think that BCCI generates profits by charging a huge amount on the stalls. “In reality, BCCI is just facilitating the event for the people. Whatever we make from this event, the majority of the amount goes to the event organisers for the structural development works including the rental fee for the ground.”

It was also learnt that despite the organisers’ offer to provide free stalls for people willing to exhibit their local produce, there were no takers.

The exhibition saw 15 local exhibitors including financial institutions and motor vehicle dealers and 30 exhibitors from India.

There were more than 60 exhibitors last year.

Younten Tshedup | Gelephu