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Nathu la reopens today

Gangtok, July 5
It will be the dawn of a new era in Sino-Indian bilateral ties tomorrow when border trade between the world’s two most populous nations resumes through the famed Nathu la pass after a gap of over four decades.

The reopening of the Himalayan pass, once part of the historic Silk Route and closed since the Indo-China war of 1962, would be another sign of warming of relations between the two Asian economic powerhouses in recent years.

Trade through Nathu la, although on a limited scale in the beginning, promises to boost the economies of the land-locked mountainous regions of the two countries.

The reopening of the route comes little over a year after China accepted Sikkim as Indian territory and New Delhi recognised Tibet as part of China following the historic summit meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao in New Delhi in April 2005.

The status of Sikkim and Tibet had been a sore point in Sino-Indian bilateral relations since 1950 when Chinese troops marched into Tibet and Sikkim merged with India later in 1975.

The opening of the pass, to be attended by Tibet Autonomous Region chairman Qiangba Puncog and Sikkim Chief Minister Pawan Kumar Chamling, is expected to boost the already flourishing bilateral trade which touched $ 18.7 billion in 2005 and is growing at more than 37 per cent.

According to a study conducted by Sikkim’s Nathu la Trade Study Group, the trade volume through Nathu la is expected to be worth Rs 353 crore by 2010, Rs 450 crore by 2015 and Rs 574 crore by 2020.

As per the arrangement, trading would initially be confined to the border regions with only Sikkim-based businessmen allowed to trade in 29 items listed for export and 15 for import.

The items that could be exported include agricultural implements, agro-chemicals, processed food, clothes, spices, tobacco and vegetables.

Commodities permitted for import include goatskin, sheepskin, wool, raw silk, china clay, borax, salt and some domestic animals.

Around 100 traders from Sikkim who would go across to the Chinese side for a first-hand knowledge of trade facilities at Renquinggang, the trade station on the Chinese side, had been issued trade passes and given a crash course on import-export modalities.

As the time for the re-opening of the pass nears, there is palpable excitement in the Sikkim capital where last-minute preparations are on to ensure the inaugural ceremony passes off smoothly. — PTI




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