Pakistan, China to discuss resumption of cross border trade through Khunjerab

Prime Minister Imran Khan on his visit to China will discuss the issue of the closure of Khunjerab border for trade activities since the outbreak of Covid-19.

The prime minister will also be accompanied by Adviser to PM on Commerce and Investment Abdul Razak Dawood during his visit to Beijing.  

Pakistani importers and exporters, who have trade associated with this land route, have been badly affected by the closure of the border; the Khunjerab border remains closed for routine trade since December 2019.

Earlier, Pakistan had asked China to reopen the border to facilitate cross-border trade and people-to-people exchanges. 

In a letter sent to the Embassy of China in Pakistan, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had stated that the border was closed on December 1, 2019 as per schedule due to the winter season, while its opening on April 1, 2020 was postponed due to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“To support the lives and livelihood of the local population on both sides of the border, it is imperative that regular cross-border trade and P2P exchanges may be resumed. Therefore, the border may be opened from April 1,” the ministry stated, adding “the esteemed embassy is requested to take up the matter with relevant quarters to open the border on the said date for smooth and regular cross-border movement.”

Earlier, following Pakistan’s persistent requests, China had agreed to open the Khunjerab border for trade on May 1, 2021 with stiff conditions in view of the Covid-19 situation. However, the neighboring country had not opened the border despite all arrangements made on Pakistan’s side.

After a meeting at the Ministry of Commerce, China again promised to allow goods to cross the border by July 10, for only cargo containers, leaving the goods near the border from where the same would be lifted by Pakistani importers.

As per a letter issued in April, 2021 the Chinese government had informed that their exporters would leave the goods on a specific location of Pakistan’s side of the border from where importers may receive them after following the SOPs. 

Similarly, exporters would also leave their goods at the same location which buyers from China would receive after completion of the same process on their side of the border. Personnel and the vehicles of both parties were directed to work in different time frames to avoid direct contact. In this regard, loading and unloading, dropping and hanging up the trailer was to be done separately when the cargo inspection channel was opened.

However these arrangements could also not work for unknown reasons.

The concerned officials at the Chinese embassy in Islamabad were approached and shared queries about the issue. However the official version was not shared till the filing of this story.

It may be mentioned here that apart from the prolonged closure of border for Covid-19 issue, the China-Pakistan border usually remains closed from December 1 till March 31 every year due to severe weather conditions, as per the bilateral agreement. For the rest of the year, however, the border remains open for two-way movement of passengers as well as transportation of goods and cargo.

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Ghulam Abbas
The writer is a member of the staff at the Islamabad Bureau. He can be reached at [email protected]

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