LACK of formal banking channels, phyto-sanitary facilities and poor cellular and data connectivity have greatly marred the trade potential of Taftan, business community of the famous border town complains.
Located some 295km away from Dalbandin, the headquarters of Chaghai district, Taftan lies along the Pakistan-Iran border in north west Balochistan and connects Pakistan with Iran, Turkey and rest of Europe via road and rail. It is a famous trade route located across the Mirjaveh town of Iran’s Sistan-Baluchistan province.
Talking to Dawn, a local trader Haji Shoukat Essazai said the business community here had been facing hurdles in money transfer due to non-availability of banking channels with Iran.
He regretted that despite being a trade centre, Taftan lacked enough banking facilities. Only a small branch of the National Bank with limited staff and facilities is operating here, he said. “Unlike other border towns, there is no Chamber of Commerce for Taftan neither are we being facilitated by the government in terms of tax exemption,” he added.
Mr Essazai said local mobile companies and PTCL were offering slow internet and they have to rely on Iranian sims for uninterrupted internet to run their business activities.
Raising another valid issue, he said, “Traders have to send their commodities to almost 600km away in Quetta for getting Phytosanitary Certificate from the Minister of National Food Security and Research’s Department of Plant Protection. This department should establish its office in Taftan.”
A senior member of the Quetta Chamber of Commerce & Industry (QCCI) Badr Uddin said the annual trade potential with Iran was $5bn but currently its worth is still limited to $1bn owing to non-existent banking channels with Iran.
“We have to exchange commodities in return for the same with Iranian traders as there is no joint bank in both countries to transfer cash money,” he said.
The QCCI senior member lamented that no one from the policy makers on government-level owned Taftan as trade with Iran at this border point was shrinking with the passage of time.
He said that their goods declarations were seen with doubt by the security forces and customs officials in Sindh and Punjab which compelled transporters to pay bribes despite paying taxes and duties. “When there is no ease of business then some traders might turn to smuggling and other illegal means in order to maintain their business,” Mr Badr Uddin complained.
Taftan Assistant Commissioner Asmatullah Achakzai told Dawn that trade via Zero Point Gate had been undocumented since the opening of the gate decades ago to date. He said making the trade via Zero Point documented and taxable with special concessions was under consideration as the government wished to boost trade activities after transforming it into a proper mechanism.
When asked about the proposed joint border markets, Mr Achakzai said, “The government is working on this project and soon joint markets would be established in the proposed points along the border with Iran. The authorities of both countries have discussed trade affairs in different meetings but some officials believe that the US sanctions are major hurdles in boosting trade between Pakistan and Iran.”
Gate closure and job losses
According to Taftan-based local journalist Mehmood Badini, Pakistan and Iran signed an agreement in 1958 for limited tax free trade between the Taftan and Mirjaveh borders via Zero Point Gate to meet the requirements of people living along the Pakistan-Iran border. “This trade was severely affected since terrorist incidents started taking place in the Iranian province Sistan-Baluchistan,” Mr Badini explained, saying the immediate reaction after every untoward incident comes in long closures of the Zero Point which causes unemployment to several hundred labourers too.
“Nowadays, the trade gate, which commonly known as Zero Point Gate, opens thrice a week only for the import of Iranian edible commodities, nothing is allowed to be exported from Pakistan,” Mehmood Badini further added.
Talking to Dawn on the condition of anonymity, a Pakistan Custom’s official said Taftan is the biggest land border customs station in the country in terms of revenue generation with minimum worth of Rs1.20bn tax and duties collection per month.
He said they usually achieve their annual duty and tax collection target during the middle of the fiscal year. Since Pakistan has been facing gas shortage, the Taftan border has been playing a major role as a gateway for importing liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) in the country. Long queues of LPG tankers and trucks can be seen every day waiting for their turn to proceed along the entry and exit points of the Taftan border and outside of the Customs House. The transporters here suffer owing to lack of facilities and limited parking place for long vehicles in the town.
According to data available with Dawn, since October last year till March this year, LPG gas, different kind of iron scrap, bitumen, cement, polyethylene, ceramic tile, prime quality high carbon steel wire rod, old and used reefer container, white cement, dates, fresh potato, fresh tomato, fresh grapes, sheep skin pickled and coriander seeds worth around Rs41.14bn were imported from Iran via Taftan border.
However, the export value for Pakistan is lower with just Rs12.58bn. The country exported fresh frozen boneless beef meat, fresh banana, fresh kinno, dry dates, fresh jujube, fresh potato, safety matches and hessian jute bags to Iran and other countries via Taftan border during the last six months.
The Customs officer told Dawn that Iran helped Pakistan by exporting 100,000 tonnes of tomatoes during October till January to overcome the tomato crisis in the country. According to him, imports from China, United States of America and Turkey also pass through the Taftan border.
Published in Dawn, April 18th, 2021