Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

In what could be a major boost to the country’s bilateral and transit trade with India and Bangladesh, the Government of India (GoI) has agreed to open four new trade points at Nagarkata, Agartala, Jogighopa, and Pandu.

These trade access points will go operational soon.

Nagarkata in West Bengal, which borders Jitti in Samtse is a “seasonal” Land Customs Station (LCS) for mandarin orange, ginger, and cardamom export.

With the new agreement, Nagarkata will become a permanent LCS without any commodity restrictions, meaning Bhutan can export boulders and river bed materials, among others, to India and other third countries, throughout the year.

After Bhutan closed the international border on March 23 as a safety measure against the pandemic, Jitti was closed. Sipsu exporters took their produce to Samtse and used Chamarchi as trade and transit route.

The proprietor of BPGS Export in Sipsu said he spent Nu 2,500 to hire a bolero and transport to Chamarchi via Samtse.

“The news is a great relief,” he said. “Exporting from Chamarchi has been challenging for us.”

“Trading via Jitti would be very convenient. It’ll benefit businessmen on both sides – Nagarkata and Samtse, especially those in Sipsu.”

With Jitti and Nagarkata opened, the distance to Silliguri will reduce by more than 60km, exporters said.

A boulder exporter in Samtse said the move would benefit Sipsu exporters.

“But the bottleneck is the tea estates which borders Jitti. They have very small roads where only small trucks are allowed to ply,” he said.

Opening Agartala in Tripura as a new trade route will facilitate Bhutan’s trade with Bangladesh through India.

Two new riverine ports, Jogighopa and Pandu, both located in Assam on India’s National Waterway 2 along the Brahmaputra River are included as additional trade routes for Bhutan’s bilateral and transit trade with India.

Today, Dhubri in Assam is the only riverine port designated for Bhutan’s trade with India.

A press release from the Embassy of India to Bhutan states: “All of these developments are aimed at benefiting Bhutanese traders by increasing logistical efficiency in terms of both time and costs.”

These riverine ports will give major impetus to exporters of Gelephu, Nganglam and Samdrup Jongkhar.

A boulder exporter from Gelephu, Chencho said: “Although it may take some time to actually start exporting from Jogighopa due to documentation and infrastructure, Jogighopa is the best option for those in Gelephu and Nganglam.”

Jogighopa is just 95km from Gelephu and 130km from Nganglam, the exporter said. Unlike the Dhubri riverine port, it is not far and there is no congestion and trucks could return within a day, he added.

“If we start exporting to Bangladesh from Jogighopa, the costs will drastically fall,” he said.

The export of boulders to Bangladesh from Gelephu has stopped at present. The riverbed materials are currently exported to Assam.

Pandu riverine port is about 220km from Gelephu. From Samdrup Jongkhar it is about 93km.

The general secretary with the Bhutan Exporters Association (BEA), Tshering Yeshi said this new development is the result of hard work and support from the economic affairs and foreign affairs ministries.

“With these additional routes, the exporters from Gelephu, Nganglam and Samdrup Jongkhar will immensely benefit. It will bring economic prosperity and also enhance economic cooperation between Bangladesh and Bhutan,” he said.

“We are positive that the exporters will fully reap the benefit of the new additional routes.”

Meanwhile, this year, the GoI also recognised and allowed Allay LCS in Pasakha as an alternative trading route.

Allay LCS was inaugurated on July 15 and allowed Pasakha-bound industrial import trucks to directly go to the estate without having to enter Phuentsholing.

This was agreed as a temporary measure after several dialogues between the GoI and the government. It was limited to just the goods from the Pasakha industries. Industrial trucks taking export goods were still not allowed to use the LCS.

From August 19, GoI facilitated the exit of industrial trucks with export goods through Allay LCS. The trucks directly connected to the Asian Highway 48 from Bibarey on the Indian side.

On October 16, GoI approved Allay LCS as a formal trading route for all goods and commodities.

The press release from the Indian Embassy said these developments are in the wake of commitments made during the visit of Indian Railway and Commerce and Industry Minister Shri Piyush Goyal to Bhutan in February 2020.

“Bhutan is India’s closest partner and friend and India’s timely response is a reflection of the special bonds of trust and understanding between India and Bhutan that have existed over decades. India has also extended the fullest cooperation and support to Bhutan in terms of ensuring the uninterrupted movement of commodities through the Covid-19 pandemic,” the press release stated.

“Going forward, India will continue to extend all possible support to Bhutan to minimise the health and economic impact of the pandemic.”