India hardly trades with China, Why that’s not changing
Deep in the Himalayas some three miles above sea level, Indian security forces and Chinese soldiers gaze at each other through a barbed-wire fence while trucks carrying goods from both sides pass through a large iron gate that marks the border. The Nathula Pass, once part of the ancient Silk Road and later sealed after a 1962 war, was reopened in 2006 as a symbol of improved relations between Asian neighbors that account for more than a third of the world’s population. A decade later, however, it perhaps better reflects a trust deficit: the pass even does not account for one percent of overall bilateral commerce.
“Business is very slow here,” said Riku Doma, 42, a shopkeeper at a market close to Nathula who sells jackets, blankets and shoes in India. “I’m just managing to survive.”
Large sections of the road linking India’s state of Sikkim with Tibet are narrow and littered with potholes. The area has no warehouses to store goods nor any hotels. Only 56 low-end items can be traded, like tea, bicycles and canned food. And for about half the year, heavy snowfall forces authorities to close the border altogether. The connectivity problems in the Himalayas, long a natural land barrier between India and China, extend to sea routes that account for the bulk of trade between the nations. A lack of quality roads around ports, insufficient warehouses, high tariffs and visa restrictions have contributed to a lopsided and lackluster trade relationship.
General view of the Indo-China Sherathang Trade Mart near the Nathula Pass, East Sikkim.