ISLAMABAD: Despite an agreement between the two governments to allow trade through the Khunjerab border, Beijing has been hesitant to open the only land route for trade activities between China and Pakistan due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
China agreed to open the Khunjerab border to trade on May 1, 2021. It had previously been closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, according to Pakistan Today, China has failed to implement the agreement. “We have been informed that China may allow goods to cross the border by July 10, 2021, but we are still uncertain about the development,” said Javed Hussain, president of the Gilgit Baltistan Exporters and Importers Association, who met with Chinese officials on June 30 at the Ministry of Commerce in Islamabad.
According to him, the meeting agreed that the border would be opened on July 3, but that date also passed without any progress. “Now we have a new date (July 10, 2021),” he explained.
“Unfortunately, the border would be open only for imports because Pakistani goods are not permitted to be exported to China via this route. According to Chinese officials, only cargo containers will cross the border, leaving the goods near the border where they will be lifted by Pakistani importers,” he said in response to a question. “We do not see any possibility of exporting to China via land in the near future. The Chinese government is extremely concerned about the coronavirus pandemic, according to the businessman.
Khunjerab Pass in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir is a major trade route between China and Pakistan, as well as an important gateway to South Asia and Europe, at 5,000 meters above sea level. China primarily imports textiles, agricultural products, and everyday necessities, while exporting plants and herbs.
Previously, Islamabad had requested that the border be reopened in order to facilitate cross-border trade and people-to-people exchanges. The Pakistan Foreign Ministry stated in a letter sent to the Chinese Embassy in Pakistan that the border was closed on December 1, 2019, as planned due to the winter season, but its reopening on April 1, 2020, was postponed due to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“It is critical that regular cross-border trade and peer-to-peer exchanges resume in order to support the lives and livelihoods of the local populations on both sides of the border. As a result, the border could be opened as early as April 1st, according to the ministry. “The esteemed embassy is requested to raise the issue with relevant parties in order to open the border on the specified date for smooth and regular cross-border movement.”
It should be noted that China previously agreed to open the Khunjerab border for trade, but only under strict conditions due to the COVID-19 situation. According to the Chinese government’s conditions, Pakistani exporters and importers would not be permitted to enter China and would instead load and unload goods on the Pakistani side of the border for inspection and sterilization, according to Pakistan Today. It was agreed that Chinese exporters would leave the goods at a specific location on the Pakistani side of the border, where importers could pick them up after following the SOPs.
Similarly, exporters would leave their goods in the same location where Chinese buyers would receive them after completing the same process on their side of the border. According to documents obtained by Pakistan Today Profit, both parties’ personnel and vehicles were directed to work in different time frames in order to avoid direct contact.
When the cargo inspection channel is opened, loading and unloading, dropping and hanging up the trailer must all be done separately. Despite assurances from both countries, the border has remained closed for bilateral trade.