Thukten Zangpo

Mandarin orange and apple exporters can expect a better export season this year after saw millers agreed to supply the required demand for packing boxes.

According to the Association of Wood-based Industries (AWBI), 400,000 boxes from different saw millers are expected to meet the requirement of exporters.

Mandarin oranges and apples are the two top export cash crops from Bhutan. Last year, Bhutan exported Nu 418.23 million (M) worth of mandarin oranges to India and Bangladesh. Of the total, almost 90 percent was exported to Bangladesh and the rest to India.

According to the Department of Agricultural and Marketing Co-operatives (DAMC), the highest offered rate for mandarin oranges recorded for last season was Nu 57.68 per kilogram and the lowest was Nu 18.52 per kilogram.

At the same time, Nu 21.05M worth of apples were exported to India and other countries in 2022.

In earlier years, with the shortage of packing boxes from local sources, the exporters faced problems importing wooden boxes from India.

The customs officials across the border had asked the Indian exporters (wooden boxes) for the phytosanitary certificate from the National Plant Protection Office requiring government-to-government level intervention.

The certificate is needed to comply with the International Standards for Phytosanitary Measure—which requires the exporting country to fumigate wooden materials, which are more than six mm thick, and issue the certificate.

Recently on May 17 this year, a consultative meeting was held between the Bhutanese saw millers and exporters on the wooden box sales agreement at the Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI).

The meeting was attended by representatives from DAMC, Department of Forests and Park Services, Department of Trade, Bhutan Food and Drug Authority, AWBI and Bhutan Exporters Association.

BCCI’s President Tandy Wangchuk said that despite good mandarin orange yield last year, the exporters faced problems because local box suppliers could not meet the demand.

The price box was negotiated at Nu 95 per box, and the two parties (saw millers and exporters) agreed to sign the agreement with 20 percent advance payment by May this year, he said, adding that it will be witnessed by the Bhutan Exporters Association and AWBI.

“If any of the two parties fails to adhere to the agreement, the failing party has to bear the costs of the boxes,” Tandy Wangchuk said.

AWBI’s President Phuntsho Wangdi said that the challenges so far have been time constraints because of last-minute orders in huge quantities from the exporters.

“To mitigate such challenges, the recent meeting agreed to place a supply order with May this year which will allow the saw millers adequate time to produce enough packing boxes for the upcoming season through execution of contract agreement between the exporters and saw millers,” he said.

Phuntsho Wangdi also said that locally manufactured packing boxes will add value, create jobs, substitute imports and conserve the outflow of the Indian Rupee.