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October 3, 2000
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Traders pray for Indo-Russian shuttle trade to pick up

Swapna Khanna in New Delhi

Twenty-eight-year-old Bunty Singh sits in his readymade garment shop on Janpath in New Delhi waiting for winter to come. It is not that he is fed up with the sultry summer heat. It is just that he hopes that Russian buyers, mainly women, will come in the first week of November, when the winter sets in.

Before he began his business, Bunty learnt to speak Russian as most of his customers are Russian.

The visit of the Russian President Vladimir Putin to India to discuss strategy and trade has rekindled hopes that the shuttle trade between India and Russia might look up.

Bunty has reason to be optimistic. He and other traders who deal in leather, readymade garments, silver and oxidised jewellery have earlier made a killing selling goods to Russian women.

These women come on cheap Aeroflot flights, check into inexpensive hotels and shop, shop and shop. Within a day or two they would get bales of garments all neatly packed to fly back and then sell the merchandise in flea markets in Moscow and other parts of Russia.

When they run out of their stocks, they fly back to India for another fill. They come laden with Russian watches, binoculars, cameras, hair dryers and cosmetics. This they sell on the streets or in subways before they embark on their shopping spree.

Says Mahendar Dharia, a trader on Janpath: "Usually, lots of tourists from Russia would be flocking our shops. We did not have time to breathe. But now, there are no Russians and we have no work."

Indian oxidised jewellery was a major craze among the Russians. Traders in Delhi would get designs that were in vogue in Russia and make them. Invariably, it was a sell out. Says Sandeep Kapur, a jeweller says he cannot shut down his business and he just hopes they will come back.

There was a boom in the shuttle trade. But Russians in the last two years have figured out that Indian traders have pushed sub-standard goods. The Russians have now started looking for alternative markets.


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