Tatopani Customs, the major inbound gateway for Chinese goods situated on the northern border, will be in-operational during Dashain, the country’s biggest festival and the time of the annual shopping frenzy when consumption explodes more than 200 percent.
Frequent landslides in the bordering region mean that the customs point will not be seeing the customary massive imports of goods for the festival this year. The customs point has been out of service since the April 25 earthquake.
The Chinese authorities have said that the Friendship Bridge connecting Nepal and China has sustained extensive damage and cannot be used. As a result, warehouses in Lhasa and Khasa in China are overflowing with Rs200 billion worth of Nepal-bound goods. Around 100 container trucks which have been cleared by Khasa Customs remain stranded at the Ramite market.
Traders are required to place their import orders at least four months in advance for the Dashain and winter seasons. With the traditional overland route to Kathmandu cut off, traders have started rerouting their imports by sea. Cargo arriving by sea will reach Biratnagar, Birgunj and Bhairahawa in 40-45 days. Goods dispatched from Khasa arrive in Kathmandu within 15-20 days via Tatopani . Traders said the increased transportation costs mean Chinese goods will become dearer.
The Tatopani customs is a popular border point for the import of products like readymade clothes, footwear products, slippers, furniture items, stationery items and electronic products, among others. Specifically, people having lower and medium scale income in Nepal consume products imported from China.
How crucial the role of Tatopani Customs is for Nepal and China can be gauged by the fact that the customs point collects revenue amounting to Rs15 million daily. The customs office earns more than Rs5 billion in taxes annually. Bishnu Bahadur Khatri, president of the Nepal Trans-Himalayan Border Commerce Association, said the possibility of importing Dashain products from Tatopani Customs was negligible, adding that they were trying to bring the products stored in godowns of Lhasa and Khasa at the earliest possible.
According to Khatri, they have initiated the process through the Nepal Consulate General in Lhasa, China. He believes the goods will enter Nepal by this week. He added that the Chinese side was likely to give compensation for goods damaged on their side. “We will make sure that the market witnesses adequate supplies of goods during Dashain by importing them through other routes,” Khatri said.
According to Dibya Raj Pokharel, customs chief at Tatopani , a temporary check post has been created at Andheri on the highway. Most customs officials are in Kathmandu. “Since the customs is unlikely to open any time soon and there is no atmosphere to work, important documents have been sent to Kathmandu,” Pokharel said. “The customs office has been based at the airport.”
Losses valued at billions
TATOPANI: A number of containers on the highway beneath Ramite jungle have been buried by landslides. Some of the containers have been pushed into the Bhote Koshi River. Traders are unaware about the number of containers and the kind of goods they contain. The Khasa administration has blocked entry and exit through the point. Likewise, it takes a lot of courage to navigate the dangerous 26-km stretch of highway from Barhabise to Tatopani . “We are in no position to provide an estimate of the losses incurred by traders,” said Rajendra Kumar Shrestha, member of the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FNCCI). “Around 100 containers are stranded in the jungle.” According to Shrestha, they have been urging the government to help bring them to Nepal. The Chinese side has been stating that it is difficult for them to allow containers to enter Nepal as the Friendship Bridge has been severely damaged. Though there is no visible damage to the bridge, the Chinese side has placed metal supports under the Nepal side of the bridge. Khil Raj Giri, a trader whose consignment has been stranded in a container in the jungle, said, “I have heard that the container has been damaged by landslides. Goods worth millions of rupees are in danger.” The Chinese government has already taken Chinese citizens in Khasa to a safer location. Currently, only Chinese army and police personnel and customs officials are left in Khasa.
Cash flow blocked
TATOPANI: With traders not being able to import goods from Khasa, they have failed to return millions of rupees to the market. Mostly “carrying” traders have been highly affected. “While business has remained closed, the concerned stakeholders have not made payment as we have not been able to bring the goods,” said Kamal Kumar Shrestha, president of the Sindhupalchok Chamber of Commerce. According to him, a big amount of cash has been dispersed in the market. “While we have Rs30 million remaining to be collected from the market, the situation is such that it is impossible to get even Rs100,000,” said Shrestha, adding that they were worried about repayment of loans.
Urge to clear goods
TATOPANI: The government has repeatedly requested China to clear goods stranded in Lhasa, Khasa and Ramite jungle. According to a source, the Khasa administration has prepared a report which has been made available to the Consulate General of Nepal in Lhasa around two days ago. Nepali traders with consignments stuck in Lhasa have been urging the government to allow them to bring the goods through the Rasuwa border point. Government officials said the Khasa administration had been preparing to clear Nepal-bound goods within a few days.