Sanjeev Giri, The Kathmandu Post, 3 July 2017
Nepal is set to propose Beijing for access to two land and three sea ports in China for enhancing connectivity with Europe. The Ministry of Commerce has prepared a draft and sent it to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) for consultation.
The proposal will be put on the table “in the near future” at a meeting to be held in Kathmandu for formulating a protocol on the Transit Transport Agreement (TTA), according to an official at the Ministry of Commerce. The TTA was signed with China in March last year during then prime minister KP Sharma Oli’s visit to Beijing.
The protocol, which is key to actualisation of the treaty, will allow Nepal to conduct trade with third countries through China. Nepal presently conducts trade with third countries only through India.
“This is purely based on our interest and will be put on the table at a meeting to be held in the near future,” Ravi Shanker Sainju, joint secretary at the Ministry of Commerce, said, stopping short of divulging details. “The proposal will be negotiated with the Chinese side.”
The ministry has stated that further moves will be made after the meeting “yields positive results”.
It also said that it is waiting for inputs from MoFA to give final touches to the draft proposal. A meeting with officials from the Embassy of China in Kathmandu will be held after the appointment of minister for commerce.
The Sher Bahadur Deuba-led government, which was formed in the first week of June, is yet to appoint ministers at various ministries.
After Nepal signed up to China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative on May 12, an early deal on the protocol on the TTA, officials say, would ensure landlocked Nepal’s early trade diversification with the third countries.
According to reliable sources, Nepal is also seeking access to Iran via China.
China’s exports hub Yiwu in Zhejiang province has opened a 10,399-km freight train route to Iran through Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. Through this rail link, goods from eastern coast of China can be shipped to Iran in just 14 days. Shipping goods via sea from Shanghai, the neighbouring city of Yiwu, to Iran takes about 45 days. Apart from this, China has several freight rail routes directly reaching Europe. The TTA allows Nepal to use the nearest Chinese port situated in Tianjin and help end the country’s dependency on India.
The move of seeking approval from China to use five more port is in line with the government plan of increasing trade via China. “We can see bottlenecks in Kolkata. The initiative has been taken with a view to avoid such issues,” Sainju said. Access to the third countries via China will hugely benefit Nepal in terms of diversifying its trade, but poor infrastructure on the Nepali side, difficult geographical terrain and lackadaisical approach from the political leadership, among others, have delayed the plan.