Clarity of information on trade and transit agreements between countries and implementation of policies in the field were two important recommendations, highlighted at a stakeholders’ meeting on “trade, transport, and transit facilitation in the sub-region” yesterday in Phuentsholing.

Representatives from various stakeholders’ agencies attended the meeting to discuss issues on trade, transport, and transit in cross-border situation.

A representative from Road Safety and Transport Authority (RSTA) in Phuentsholing said most of the local level stakeholders are unaware of MoUs agreed between governments.

“It has to be shared by the centre to the state government and to the ground level,” he said. “It should be explained.”

In doing so, Bhutanese trucks and other vehicles wouldn’t have problems while travelling through the Indian territories, the officer said.

The chairman with the Bhutanese truckers committee, BB Tamang said Bhutanese trucks carrying goods through the Indian highway still faced problems.

“There have been cases where Bhutanese people have not got their vehicles back after being held,” he said.

BB Tamang said that relevant officials across the border should understand that transit permit from Bhutan customs is enough for smooth transportation. Although routes across the borders are used, goods and commodities are ferried from one Bhutanese place to another.

“We don’t drop goods in India,” BB Tamang said. “But sometimes—our trucks are held, and it would be too late when we complain.”

He said vehicles still get stuck at the customs office across the border. “They point out various documentations reasons and it is a loss for us.”

To facilitate trade, transport, and transit facilitation in the sub-region, BB Tamang said that it was important to have storage facilities in Phuentsholing and other cross-border areas.

The Consumer Utility & Trust Society (CUTS) International is leading the overall project for “trade, transport, and transit facilitation in the sub-region.” Bhutan Media and Communications 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. It includes Bhutan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Myanmar.

“This project is simultaneously being conducted in other four countries,” she said.

In Bhutan, BMCI has completed field surveys, focus group discussions, in-depth interviews, and three stakeholders meetings in Thimphu, Phuentsholing, and Delhi.

Two more stakeholders meeting would be conducted in Samdrupjongkhar and Thimphu, after which the findings would be compiled and submitted to CUTS International.

The representative from Bhutan Chamber of Commerce & Industry, Sangay Dorji said the problem in trade and transit facilitation across borders has to do more at the ground level.

“I think the problem is not because of lack of policies. It is all about ground difficulties,” he said.

At times, for example, a particular official’s mentality in the field can make a difference, he said, explaining this should be solved first. More cross- border coordination meetings would help.

Group discussions on ways to improve lives of people involved in trade transport, ways to improve women’s participation in trade and transport, and discussions on benefits from regional connectivity were also held at the meeting.

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing