National security concerns seem to have delayed the reopening of Nathula, the pass in Sikkim through which trade was traditionally conducted between Tibetans and Indians. India and China had agreed last year to resume trade through this route, which is located on the strategic border.
Initially, it was reported that the route would reopen this year. However, after meeting central leaders in Delhi, the Chief Minister of Sikkim, Pawan Chamling, said on June 24, 2004, “The trade through the pass is likely to take one more year to start.” According to the Gangtok Times of June 19, 2004, “The Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, told Chief Minister Chamling at a recent meeting that Nathula would be reopened only next year, as all the issues relating to trade agreement would be reviewed.” The Indian Minister of State for Home, Sreeprakash Jaiswal, was quoted as saying on June 22, 2004 in Kolkata that the Defense Ministry, too, had been asked to give its opinion on the subject, he said.
The Nathula route was closed in 1962 following the outbreak of the Sino-Indian war.
Sikkim’s Industries Secretary K. B Chettri has said that 29 items of trade are permitted at present through the two existing trading posts in Uttaranchal and Himachal Pradesh. The items of export are agricultural inputs, blankets, tea, coffee, clothes, textiles, watches, shoes, canned food, tobacco, rice, and dry fruit. “The import items are goat skin, sheep skin, sheep wool, raw silk. Yak tail, china clay, goat wool or pashmina,” Chettri added.
According to a ‘discussion paper’ brought out by the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) on the proposed reopening of Nathula, the top five commodities of export from India to China in 2001-2002, included iron ore; plastics and linoleum products; minerals and ores; marine products; drugs, pharmaceuticals and chemicals. China’s top five exports to India in 2001-2002 included electronic goods; coal, coke and briquettes; organic chemicals; raw silk; and medicinal and pharmaceuticals products.