China not opening Khunjerab trade border even after the promise

ISLAMABAD: Even after the promise, China is still not agreeing to open the trade route connected to Pakistan in fear of COVID-19

Earlier, following Pakistan’s persistent requests, China had agreed to open the Khunjerab border for trade by May 1, 2021 with stiff conditions in view of the Covid-19 situation. However the neighboring country has yet not opened the border despite all arrangements made on Pakistan’s side of the border.

“We have been informed that China may allow goods cross the border by July 10, 2021, but we are still uncertain about the development,” said Javed Hussain, head of Gilgit Baltistan Exporters, Importers Association, who had held a meeting with Chinese officials at Ministry of Commerce here in Islamabad on June 30.

According to him, it was agreed in the meeting that the border would be opened on July 3, but that date also passed without any development. “Now we are given another date (July 10, 2021),” he said.

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“Unfortunately the border would be opened for only imports as Pakistani goods are not allowed to be exported to China through this route. As per Chinese officials only cargo containers would cross the border leaving the goods near the border from where the same would be lifted by Pakistani importers,” he said while replying to a query.

“We do not see any chance of export to China via the land route in near future. Chinese side is very cautious about the Corona pandemic,” the businessman said.

As a letter issued in April 2021, the Chinese government had informed that Chinese exporters would leave the goods on a specific location of Pakistan’s side of the border from where importers may receive them after following the SOPs. Similarly, exporters would also leave their goods at the same location which buyers from China would receive after completion of the same process on their side of the border.

As per the letter, personnel and the vehicles of both parties have been directed to work in different time frames to avoid direct contact. In this regard, loading and unloading, dropping and hanging up the trailer are to be done separately when the cargo inspection channel is opened.

The opening of cargo inspection channels, the letter described, will be implemented in two phases keeping in view that disinfection and sterilisation facilities at Khunjerab-Sost Port will function from May 1.

“In the first phase, from April 1 to April 30, both sides should conduct activities separately. There is no need to repositioning the container after unloading. The operation area is on the Pakistani side of the boundary under No 7,” Chinese authorities clarify in their reply.

Noting that the entire process would be carried out in Pakistan, local traders have termed the conditions unjustified

Earlier, Islamabad had asked China to reopen the border to facilitate cross-border trade and people-to-people exchanges.

In a letter sent to the Embassy of China in Pakistan, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had stated that the border was closed on December 1, 2019 as per schedule due to the winter season, while its opening on April 1, 2020 was postponed due to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.

 “To support the lives and livelihood of the local population on both sides of the border, it is imperative that regular cross-border trade and P2P exchanges may be resumed. Therefore, the border may be opened from April 1,” the ministry stated. “The esteemed embassy is requested to take up the matter with relevant quarters to open the border on the said date for smooth and regular cross-border movement.”

China-Pakistan border remains closed from December 1 till March 31 every year due to severe weather conditions, as per the bilateral agreement. For the rest of the year, however, the border remains open for two-way movement of passengers as well as transportation of goods and cargo. The border was opened for a few weeks in July last year to facilitate the release of stranded containers, and again in September, to shift medical material gifted by the Chinese government to GB to deal with Covid-19.