Potato export comes to abrupt halt

Obstacle comes just when the rates are shooting up 

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

Although Bhutan has been exporting potatoes to India for a long time now, it is not yet in the import list in India. 

India’s border town—Jaigaon—has stopped importing Bhutanese potatoes. 

Why?

Because Phuentsholing is declared a Covid-19 red zone, the Indian side says. But tonnes of Bhutanese potatoes were in demand in the Indian town until yesterday.

FCBL’s director for the department of corporate business, Dorji Tashi, said although the export was going smoothly despite the pandemic, sudden disruptions across the border was causing export problems. 

“It seems potato is not a registered item,” he said.

Dorji Tashi also said that Indian traders who deal in tuber are willing to take the produce from Bhutanese individuals ready to export. But the export is not allowed, he added. 

truck

Stranded: Two trucks loaded with potatoes wait for export to resume

The issue is also a repeat of what happened with cardamom export 2017. After the introduction of GST in India, export of cardamom via Jaigaon was abruptly stopped. With the GST implementation, the customs office installed computerised system called the ICEGATE in Jaigaon and other border towns that links trade to Bhutan.

The system asked for quarantine clearance and the Plant Quarantine Services of India (PQSI) did not issue the clearance for Bhutanese cardamom. The clearance that Bhutan Agriculture and Food Authority (BAFRA) provided was not recognised and the export was disrupted. 

The government later had dialogues with India and resolved the matter. 

This time, as this disruption is similar to that of cardamom issue in 2017, traders are questioning why such move to stop potato export was initiated three years after the GST was introduced. 

With everything fine until a few days, traders say there must be parties across the border with vested interests who want to stop export of potatoes.

A former tourism sector’s employee, Sonam Gyeltshen from Khotoka, said that his trucks loaded with potatoes were stranded on the highway for several days.

Since the export commenced this year, FCBL has exported 999.14 metric tonnes (MT) of potatoes, worth Nu 20.14 million (M). It has exported 4,000MT of vegetables worth Nu 85M until now this year. This is just a 10 percent export compared to the normal previous years. 

In a new development in export of potatoes, Bhutanese farmers this year have two options to sell of their produce, one through FCBL and the other through private Bhutanese traders. 

The government has allowed Bhutanese traders this year to directly export potatoes. 

These traders are among those who lost jobs due to the pandemic. They are allowed to directly export on their own. The department of agricultural marketing and cooperatives (DAMC) is facilitating it.

Starting September 19, when the export commenced, until October 11, DAMC recorded export of 3,758MT of potatoes worth Nu 108.97M. 

Figures also show that tuber trading price has skyrocketed starting this month. From October 1 until October 11, private Bhutanese traders exported 2,111.65MT of potatoes worth Nu 70.89M.

From September 19, until the month ended, 1,646.45MT of potatoes worth Nu 38.08M were exported. 

“As of now, there are just about four to five trucks stranded on the highway before reaching Rinchending,” DAMC’s marketing chief Yonten Gyamtsho said.

DAMC also coordinates with labour office to arrange adequate loaders and provide overall management of RNR Export Transshipment Facility at the truck parking with support from RBP and De-Suups.

DAMC has recorded export of 4,019.55MT of vegetables worth Nu 125.29M until October 11.

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