Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Nepal to withdraw change request

KATHMANDU, Dec 26: Nepal has rolled back its plan to get the newly agreed transit routes incorporated in the new bilateral Transit Treaty due renewal next week after it failed to hold crucial talks for finalizing nitty-gritty of their operations with the southern neighbor due to differences over a provision on additional lock system between different ministries.
“We should have finalized the details and cleared formalities by now if we were to include the new routes in the treaty by now. But the talks haven´t been held so far, and the treaty is expiring on January 5, 2013,” said a highly placed official at Ministry of Commerce and Supplies (MoCS).

Given the situation, the government has now prepared to get Nepal-India Transit Treaty renewed in the form that it exists presently under the provision of automatic renewal.

“We sent a formal proposal to renew the treaty without any change in its content to the Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers (OPMCM) on Monday. Once the PM, who also looks after the MoCS, approves it, we will forward it to the cabinet for endorsement,” said Lal Mani Joshi, secretary at the MoCS, told Republica.

Renewal of treaty without any change would mean Nepal would not be able to utilize the five recently agreed transit routes, fully operationalize Vishakapatnam Sea Port -- the new port opened for Nepal´s third country trade, and operate cargo train between inland container depot (ICD) in Birgunj and Bangladesh.

Officials at the MoCS have been pushing for earliest operations of the new routes as they would have enhanced speed of movement of cargoes in transit (as Vishakapatnam is more efficient port than Kolkata), thereby reducing cost. Likewise, operations of rail transportation would have greatly smoothened country´s bilateral trade with Bangladesh.

The MoCS officials blamed the delay to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA).

“We had unofficially discussed on the changes on the treaty with the Indian counterpart and they had agreed as well. However, despite our repeated requests, MoFA neither moved that file officially to India nor coordinated that much needed bilateral meeting, which was necessary to finalize the nitty-gritty,” said the MoCS official.

Top officials at the MoFA agreed as well. And they attributed such lack of cooperation by the ministry to the strong objection of Foreign Minister Narayan Kaji Shrestha to a provision of the draft that allowed India to impose additional lock on containers destined to Nepal.

“We operated with single-lock system for decades; what´s problem with it now? India´s proposal to impose additional lock goes against the spirit of internationally agreed transit rights. Hence, Minister Shrestha is against it,” stated a MoFA official, requesting anonymity.

MoFA believes double lock would not only curb Nepal´s transit rights but also add hassles to Nepal´s third country trade cargoes in India.

However, top officials at MoCS along with experts and a section of traders believe the proposed additional lock system will facilitate smooth movement of containers from Visakhapatnam, rather than hindering the goods in transit.

Trade experts have been emphasizing for operationalizing the new routes as they would enable Nepal to access the newly agreed Vishakapatnam sea port, which is more efficient than Kolkata port, for carrying out third country trade.

Likewise, inclusion of rail transit route and Fulbari-Banglabandh land route in the treaty is believed to do away with current problems that Nepali traders face while trading with Bangladesh. Most importantly, it will also ensure Nepal´s access to an alternate port of Mongla in Bangladesh for carrying out third country trade.

Citing concern over security and depletion of goods along the route to Nepal from Kolkata, the southern neighbor has long been putting pressure on Nepali officials to agree on the additional lock system in Visakhapatnam before the renewal of the transit treaty. India has already put in place the system on Kolkata route in August last year.

Published on 2012-12-26 04:00:39

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