Various stakeholders, who met in Samdrupjongkhar on July 20, to discuss issues on trade, transport and transit facilitation in the sub-region recommended the simplification of export procedures, waterways and to improve the customs process.

A representative from Druk Satair, Lethro, Chief Executive Officer,  said there is a need to focus on waterways and to explore its usage, as it will benefit both the exporters and importers of the country since there is a huge cost in transport.

“We are planning to export gypsum to West Bengal and Bangladesh through waterways but there are some issues to be resolved although there are transit agreements between Bhutan, India and Bangladesh,” he said

He said there is a need to increase the number of railways, as there is only one railway in India exporting Bhutanese goods to Nepal. “It took almost a month to send one consignment to Nepal last year. The government, through the Department of Trade and Bhutan Chamber for Commerce and Industry (BCCI) should consult the exporters and look into it.”

The representative also said they were told that a bilateral talk was going on since 2012. “But we were not informed about the outcome.”

A representative from BCCI, Ugyen Chophel, General Secretary,  said the government had proposed the Bhutan, Bangladesh, India and Nepal (BBIN) agreement to facilitate the movement of vehicles and anything related to the transports.

Participants also suggested the need to increase economic growth, reduce trade barriers, enhance livelihood of the people, easy access to the market, transfer of technology, skills and sharing of common infrastructures and improve the customs process.

The participants said that to improve women participants in trade and transport, it’s important to educate more women in stakeholder meetings, provide separate infrastructures like restrooms, feeding centres and child care and digital skills so that women can work from home and to introduce flexi-time.

To improve lives of people involved in trading, the participants said there is a need to create awareness of market opportunities for both growers and suppliers, consistency of production and supply, subsidy on storage services, explore more means of transportation, simplification of export procedures, coordination among stakeholders, increase notified trade route, establish goods and services tax (GST) counters and help desk along the trade routes.

The Consumer Utility and Trust Society (CUTS) International is leading the overall project for trade, transport and transit facilitation. Bhutan Media and Communication Institute (BMCI) is conducting it in Bhutan.

BMCI director, Pushpa Chhetri, said the project’s objective is to identify hurdles related to trade, transport and transit facilitation in the sub-region.

She said that truck drivers who transport gypsum from Pemagatshel to Samdrupjongkhar for more than 10 years have travelled few times to Rangia and problems like crowded traffic, over speeding, unfriendly Indian truckers and people discourage them to ply on Indian roads.

“It is found that even the rate becomes an issue for Bhutanese truckers to carry until Rangia. “Refueling is another problem for them as they have to pay in Indian currency and there is a relation between the governments but there is no relationship between people,” she said.

A representative from the Department of Revenue Customs said there are memoranda of understandings (MoU) signed between the governments but they are not well implemented.

Kelzang Wangchuk | Samdrupjongkhar