GILGIT: Hundreds of people affiliated with the Pakistan-China border trade face economic hardship following suspension of trade and travel between the two countries through the Khunjerab pass.
The trade bodies have appealed to the government to devise a mechanism to mitigate their losses by ensuring smooth continuation of trade activities from the upcoming season.
They said the exchequer had suffered around Rs8 billion revenue losses as the CPEC-related shipments halted following the border closure throughout 2020.
Under the protocol agreement, the border remains open from April to November.
Shaban Ali, a local trader, told Dawn that he had purchased Rs5 million worth goods, including walnuts and almonds, from China markets in 2019, but could ship them to Pakistan as the Khunjerab pass was closed following coronavirus outbreak in November 2019.
He said after the border closure the loaded containers had to be unloaded at various warehouses in China.
“As the border remained closed throughout the last year the prices of goods I purchased in China fell in the local markets because of increase in value of the Chinese currency against the Pakistani rupee and arrival of fresh products in the market,” he said.
He said he had no option but to sell the products in China at cheap rates, suffering huge losses.
Hussain Ali, another trader, said the extended closure of the border had caused him massive losses.
Mehboob Rabbani, president of Hunza Chamber of Commerce and Industries, told Dawn that thousands of people, including traders, transporters, labourers and hotel owners, had suffered losses due to the border closure.
He said approximately 30 per cent of GB people depended on the border trade.
Mr Rabbani said export of local products like jewellery, minerals, dry fruits and cherries to China also suffered battering last year.
Mohammad Ayub Waziri, president of Nagar Chamber of Commerce and Industries, said about 3,000 containers travelled to and from China annually, and their suspension has badly hit the GB economy.
Mr Waziri said prices of Chinese items, which were usually available at cheap rates, had also gone up in the local markets.
He said a total 180 containers were stranded in China when the border was closed in November 2019, and only 66 could travel to Pakistan when the border was temporarily opened. He said the traders were still paying storage rents and bearing other expenditures in China.
He lamented that Pakistani traders had to pay five times higher the rents to the Chinese companies to transport stranded containers to Pakistan during the temporary opening of the border.
He said the Chinese transporters dropped the containers at the Khunjerab top, and the traders had to bear extra expenditures to ship the containers from Khunjerab to the Sost port.
Meanwhile, according to the Pakistan Customs officials, only 66 containers, including equipment related to Covid-19 and machinery, could be delivered from China to Pakistan during the temporary opening of the border in 2020.
An official of Pakistan Customs on condition of anonymity told Dawn that in 2019 season, Rs6.4 billion were collected in respect of customs duties at the Sost port, and it was expected to cross Rs8 billion mark in 2020 if the border remained opened.
Published in Dawn, January 11th, 2021