Dechen Dolkar

The Government of India (GoI) has been requested to remove all non-tariff barriers (NTBs) that remain as bottlenecks on the ground for seamless exports.

These barriers are measures other than a customs tariff that act as barrier to the trade.

Though Bhutan and India have free trade agreements, at the ground level the exporters face issues frequently while exporting.

During External Affairs Minister of India S Jaishankar’s recent visit to Bhutan, the two sides discussed the trade issues as well.

Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji said that trade was one of the key sectors that they have discussed.

“Our request was on board and the request was to remove all the NTBs,” Lyonpo said.

Lyonpo said that despite the free trade agreement, there have been difficulties while exporting because there are a lot of NTBs that have been in place in regards to quality, sanitary, time extension and price differentials and many other factors.

Lyonpo said that when a request to resolve issues is made to GoI, they give time extensions again. “We have to request them again when that expires.”

“We requested to remove all the NTBs and time-bound extension and give us a perpetual extension because it falls under our free trade agreement,” Lyonpo said.

Prior to the pandemic, the trade took place informally and unofficially, the only product that was officially traded was asparagus. No other commodities were listed to be exported. Similarly, fertilisers were not allowed to be exported from India but Bhutanese imported.

Lyonpo said that the issues have come because of the pandemic and the border gate was closed. “Many trade-related issues have surfaced which we feel are good because it gives us an opportunity to clear this once and for all.”

Lyonpo said that during the external affairs minister’s visit the delegation assured the hosts that everything will be resolved soon.

Economic Affairs Minister Loknath Sharma said, “We have requested that the ground issues can be resolved soon.”

Currently, the export issues are with the potatoes, ginger and areca nuts. The export of ginger and areca nut from Bhutan was stopped in May 2021. The export of Bhutanese potatoes was stopped in 2020. The current exemptions from the import restrictions for potatoes are valid until June this year.

Lyonpo said that the government is working to resolve it before June.

“I have travelled to three states in India recently to resolve the export issues and we wanted to not leave any stone unturned,” Lyonpo said.

Lyonpo said he was also anticipating an announcement to be made this time during the external affairs minister’s visit as the GoI has assured to solve by the end of April.

“I am expecting that in a month it will be resolved,” he said.