GILGIT: Border trade with China through Khunjerab Pass has been suspended for over a month as traders have refused to clear their consignments through newly introduced Web-Based One Customs (WeBOC ) system at Sust Dry Port.
The Khunjerab Pass owing to heavy snowfall remains closed from December to end of March every year under a border protocol agreement signed between the two countries.
The Gilgit-Baltistan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GBCCI) and other trade organisations are supporting the striking exporters and importers who have rejected the goods clearance system launched from April this season.
Sust dry port has been shut since the open season began in April
Many rounds of talks between trader representatives and the FBR [Pakistan Customs] and the GB government officials to settle the issue failed to make any headway as both the sides were reluctant to soften their stances. Currently, about three dozen trucks carrying goods to and from China are stranded at the Sust Dry Port due to this dispute.
The traders are of the view that doing border business through Khunjerab Pass is different from the rest of country and the region lacks proper internet service and they are lack the training and education to learn the WeBOC system.
The FBR believes that the online system will not only make the trade through Pakistan-China border easier but will also align Sust dry port with all the modern infrastructure in dry ports across the country. Introducing WeBOC system in Sust has long been part of the government plans.
Talking to Dawn on Thursday, GBCCI President Nasir Hussain Raki questioned the government’s motives, and wen on to say that introduction of WeBOC system at Sust Dry port is part of “a conspiracy to cause the trade between Pakistan and China to fail.”
The traders working for years at this port are uneducated and unfamiliar with the newly launched customs clearance system, which they fear will render thousands of people jobless, he added.
In second phase of protest, Raki said, the Karakoram Highway (KKH) will be blocked for traffic to mount pressure on the government for acceptance of demands. He did not say when the second phase might begin.
“If anything untoward happens, FBR and Pakistan Customs will be responsible,” he warned.
GB Legislative Assembly Member Javed Hussain said KKH is a CPEC route but unfortunately the border trade activity between China and Pakistan is suspended for over a month.
“The FBR cannot impose laws in GB like other parts of the country, as the area is a disputed territory, it is a universal principle ‘no taxation without representation’” he added, referring to the collection of customs duties by the federal government deep inside GB.
He demanded that GB should be declared a tax-free zone as per the wishes of locals.
Published in Dawn, May 4th, 2018