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Nepal, China rush to open Hilsa border

- PRITHVI MAN SHRESTHA/JAYA BAHADUR ROKAYA, KATHMANDU/HUMLA

Mar 24, 2016-

Hopes of the Nepal-China border point at Hilsa, Humla being opened for formal international trade have been heightened after the two countries signed an agreement in Beijing on Monday to build a bridge across the border river with Chinese funding.

Hilsa is one of the six border points Nepal and China had agreed to open for international trade when former Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jibao visited Kathmandu in 2012. Officials said that this border point could be first to be opened after Rasuwagadhi as the construction of infrastructure on either side has reached an advanced stage.

Rasuwagadhi, which began operations in December 2014, is the second border point made available for trade after Tatopani, the first and largest border point. Tatopani has remained closed since the earthquake on April 25, 2015 due to extensive damage.

“China has accorded first priority to opening this border point as far as I know, based on my informal conversations in Lhasa,” said Hari Bashyal, the former consul

general of Nepal in Lhasa who returned home recently after concluding his tenure. “I have visited the Chinese side of the border thrice, and the infrastructure there is largely ready for use.”

On the Nepal side, the Department of Roads has been constructing a road from Hilsa to Simikot, the district headquarters. Vehicles have started operating on the 45-km track leading south from the border point. On the Chinese side, a black-topped road connects the border point.

“As Hilsa has been linked by a road, this border point can be brought into operation before Kimathanka in Sankhuwasabha district where a road is yet to be built,” said Bashyal.

According to him, there is a customs office and an Armed Police station on the Chinese side while Nepal has set up a customs office and police post on its side of the border. “The infrastructure is close to being ready for operation,” he added.

Nepal has also given priority to opening this border point along with Kimathanka and Korala in Mustang. “We have the okay to open any of these three border points first,” said Surya Sedai, information officer at the Department of Customs. According to him, they have put these three border points in the priority list of annual development.

Officials said that the construction of a boundary bridge was the first step towards opening the border point. Once the bridge is constructed, movement of goods will become possible.

“Since there is no bridge, Nepali traders have to hire porters to carry the trade goods after they are unloaded by Chinese trucks,” said Jivan Bahadur Shahi, a lawmaker from the district.

Even though the border point has not been opened formally, tourists have been using it to travel to Kailash Manasarovar. Indian tourists, in particular, cross into China here as it offers the shortest route to Kailash. The Chinese market centre of Taklakot (Burang) lies about 30 km across the border. People of Humla travel to the Chinese market to do their shopping.

Nepal has been conducting local trade through the border point, exporting medicinal herbs, handicrafts and farm products to China and importing rice, flour, utensils and electronic products.

“Once this route is opened for formal international trade, it can contribute to the prosperity of the Karnali region by creating economic opportunities,” said lawmaker Shahi. Karnali is Nepal’s most backward region.  

“If the construction of the road on the Nepal side is completed and a fuel import deal is also signed with China, it will be easier to import petroleum products and food products from the northern neighbour,” said Namgyal Lama, president of the Humla Chamber of Commerce and Industry. “It will make life easier all over Province 6.”

Tourism promotion initiative

Nepal and China have agreed to support each other’s tourism promotion activities in their respective countries to enhance people-to-people contacts, said a joint communiqué issued from Beijing on Wednesday. To support the recovery of tourism in Nepal, China has expressed willingness to provide Chinese language training in Nepal for 200 Nepali tourism professionals in the next five years.  Meanwhile, Nepal will encourage Chinese enterprises to invest in Nepal’s tourism facilities. On December 25, 2015, Nepal had announced waiver of visa fees for Chinese tourists for the first time on par with the treatment offered to the Saarc countries. The free visa fee scheme was implemented in January this year. China is Nepal’s second largest source of tourists.

Published: 24-03-2016 08:55

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