Border trade between India and its neighbours could get a further boost with the Centre considering opening 18 more land trading points and customs stations with China, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal and Myanmar.
“We have received proposals from the state governments of Arunachal Pradesh, West Bengal, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram to open up more trade points with the neighbouring countries. We have fowarded these proposals to the ministry of external affairs,” said Jairam Ramesh, minister of state for commerce.
Of the new land stations being proposed, five will be with China, two with Myanmar, one each with Nepal and Bhutan and nine with Bangladesh. At present, border trade with China is being conducted through three border passes, namely Lipulekh, Shipki La and Nathu La. Similarly, the India-Bhutan agreement on trade, commerce and transit, which was renewed on 28 July 2006 for 10 years, provides for 16 points on the border through which trade can take place.
Ramesh said that these proposals were in addition to the 14 land customs stations, which had already been approved by the government at the cost of over Rs850 crore. Of the land stations approved, the government is working to ensure that the land stations at Petrapole, Moreh, Raxaul and Wagah are put on the fast track. The cost of the four land customs stations is expected to be close to Rs342 crore.
The land customs stations are being constructed by RITES Ltd. In addition to this, the commerce ministry is also keenly looking at public-private partnerships for these land customs stations. “We have asked the Infrastructure Leasing and Financial Services Ltd to help us do this,” the minister said.
According to Nagesh Kumar, director general of the Research and Information System for non-aligned and other developing countries, in the absence of land customs stations, a large part of the land route trade is unofficial.
“With the setting up of more land stations, the facilities for transit will improve and help the increase the quantum of unofficial trade. For instance, in the case of Bangladesh the unofficial level trade of $1.5 billion (Rs6,600 crore) is almost equal to the level of formal trade. With more land stations, this could come down substantially,” he said.
In addition to opening up of more transit points, the commerce ministry is also pushing to expand the list of items which can be traded at these points. At present, only 12 items are allowed to be traded at the Wagah border, while 22 items are allowed at Moreh and 40 items at Nathu La.
“We are keen to free up trade at Wagah but Pakistan has to agree to our proposal,” Ramesh said adding that India was also keen to free trade with Myanmar. He however added that there were reservations in sections of the government about opening up the trade with China.