1,400 cargo trucks stranded at Taftan as border shut on coronavirus fears

Updated 06 Mar 2020

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Trucks wait to cross into Iran, after Pakistan sealed its border with Iran as a preventive measure following the coronavirus outbreak, at the border post in Taftan, Pakistan.—Reuters
Trucks wait to cross into Iran, after Pakistan sealed its border with Iran as a preventive measure following the coronavirus outbreak, at the border post in Taftan, Pakistan.—Reuters

ISLAMABAD: More than 1,400 trucks loaded with goods are stranded at the Taftan border crossing after Pakistan temporarily closed its border with Iran over concerns of coronavirus, Dawn has learnt from knowledgeable sources.

Pakistan closed its border with Iran on Feb 23 amid rising number of coronavirus cases and associated deaths. Balochistan, which shares 959km border with Iran, has already declared emergency in the province to contain the virus.

Well-placed sources told Dawn that Tehran has requested Islamabad to allow trucks to enter into the country. “We are considering finding out ways for the clearance of goods,” the source said while adding the final decision is expected in the next couple of days.

The trucks stranded at the border are loaded with petroleum products especially liquefied petroleum gas, scrap and chemicals.

The source said the goods are not the problem, since they cannot carry the virus but the issue lies with drivers and helpers driving the trucks. The government is considering various options to check truck drivers at quarantine places on the border, the source said.

In addition, Pakistan’s leather manufacturers import raw skin of sheep and other animals from Iran and there is no alternate option for this raw material. The closure of borders with Iran is likely to affect the leather industry as well.

Pakistan and Iran carry out trade on barter basis in the wake of US sanctions on Iran. In April 2017, the State Bank of Pakistan had signed a Banking and Payment Arrangement with Iran’s central bank, Markazi Jomhouri Islami Iran Bank (BMJII) for providing a trade settlement mechanism to promote bilateral trade. However, the agreement failed to materialise after the US reimposed sanctions on Tehran following its withdrawal from Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

According to sources, Iranian envoy in Islamabad also held meetings with top Pakistani authorities for opening of border stations to allow entry of trucks in to the country.

Pakistan’s exports to Iran through the Taftan border mostly include fruits and vegetables. There is no restriction on exports of fruits from Pakistan on the Taftan border, a customs official told Dawn. He said our exports are mostly seasonal and currently there are no exports to Iran at border.

The potential of vegetable and fruit trade has remained unfulfilled due to a lack of quarantine department at the border crossing. The government had announced in November last year to setup a quarantine department at the border to allow imports of vegetable and fruits from Tehran.

According to the official, Iran can export these products to Pakistan via sea route. However, he agreed that the sea route will increase freight charges.

As part of liberalisation of trade, Pakistan and Iran have committed to increase bilateral trade to $5 billion per annum. Currently, the bilateral trade is hovering around $1bn mostly in favour of Iran. Compared to that, Iran’s trade volume with Iraq stood at $13bn and around $10bn with the UAE.

In this background, authorities from both sides have held several rounds for enacting a permanent mechanism for barter trade. In this connection, a joint trade committee, co-chaired by the commerce ministers of both the countries has already been set up.

In addition, the Tehran Chamber of Commerce and Industry (TCCI) President Masoud Khansari also visited the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry last week stressing upon the need to enhance interactions between the business communities between the two neighbours.

Khansari said that instead of waiting for trade promotion at government level, the business communities will have to sit together and make collective efforts to promote trade and investment.

“We look forward to seeing Pakistan at the same level in terms of trade volume which Iran has been enjoying with Iraq and the UAE etc”, he added.

Published in Dawn, March 6th, 2020