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CII to set up task-force on Nathu-La trade
Sambit Saha in Kolkata | July 11, 2003 12:32 IST
Confederation of Indian Industry eastern region will soon set up a task force to evaluate the possibilities of trade and commerce through Nathu-La Pass in Sikkim, which was thrown open for border trade with China.
The task force, which will suggest the necessary initiatives needed to facilitate trade, will comprise key stakeholders in the state governments of West Bengal and Sikkim, different ministries of Union government like road, shipping, civil aviation and tourism, as well as chambers of commerce in north Bengal and Sikkim. CEOs of Indian Inc who have exposure to China would be inducted as well.
CII has already drafted an approach paper on the Nathu-La trade route and circulated it among its members. Copies have been sent to the West Bengal government including chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya and commerce and industry minister Nirupam Sen.
The paper has identified north Bengal city Siliguri as the possible transhipment hub for trade via Nathu-La pass. Customs, warehousing and storage and freight handling infrastructure would need to be developed there.
Sanjay Budhia, chairman of CII (eastern region) said: "We will promote north Bengal in a big way. In November, CII will hold its regional council meeting in Siliguri so that key industry people could be taken to the place where action will take place. It will also host an enterprise fair there at that time."
CII's central office will organise a 'Made-in-India' show in Beijing in October. Budhia said eastern region would play a special role in view of the Nathu-La connection.
The approach paper points out that Siliguri needs to redouble its road connectivity. Work on the 600 km north-south economic corridor development in Bengal, connecting Haldia to Siliguri, must be initiated.
Moreover, Bagdogra airport outside Siliguri would have to be upgraded. To handle large volumes of cargo and increase use of air facilities, it should be converted to an international airport status.
Bagdogra was currently an Indian Air Force base. It was not clear how it could be converted into a full-scale civilian aiport without the air force losing control of a strategic air-base.
The paper sees big gain for Siliguri in tourism. The city could well emerge as the centre for growth of Buddhist tourism in India. It should position itself as the hub for Buddhist pilgrims from Japan, China & for the East-Asian travellers - servicing Bodhgaya in Bihar; Rumtek in Sikkim; and Tawang in Arunachal.
However, CII had a word of caution for the overland trade between India and China as it would have to compete with existing sea routes.
Transhipment through Singapore/Hong Kong was an established and inexpensive trade route. To counter this, Nathu-la volumes and infrastructure would have to rise to a significant level for which high-level investment would be needed for infrastructure.
"Nathu-La will become viable, if the freight-time and freight-costs to reach cities in east and south-eastern China were lower than freight over sea. The route offers India proximity for trade with only limited centres in China.
The eastern and south-eastern sea-coast of China, home to the famed SEZs the major Chinese centres for manufacturing is already well connected by sea and may not need this route," international trade experts noted.However, industry is hoping China will take the lead in developing the trade route as this will be the shortest route to reach seaports from western China and Tibet. CII is also considering involving Chinese trade bodies to sensitise them about the opportunity.