After keeping the only land route between Pakistan and China closed for over two years following the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic, China has finally announced to open the Khunjerab border from April 1, 2022 for trade activities.
According to a circular issued by Foreign Affairs office of Kashgar administration, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region of China on March 24, 2022, the Hongqi Lafu port (Khunjerab dry port) would officially be opened next month. “In accordance with the agreement between the government of Pakistan and China on border crossing and their management system signed on May 22, 2013, CMB Hongqi Lafu Suster port will officially be opened on April 1, 2022,” the circular said.
However, as per the circular all inspection units and foreign related enterprises are directed to make preparations in accordance with the port epidemic prevention and control requirements.
“Since the circular has not mention whether the border will be opened for two sides or one side we are still not clear about the full opening of the border for bilateral trade,” said Mr Mushtaq an office bearer of Gilgit Chamber of Commerce adding that the strict compliance of Covid-19 related SOPs as mentioned in the circular, had facilitated only one side trade on this route previously.
According to him, the border should be opened for all kinds of trade from both sides as the trade on this route is halted for over two years badly affecting the importers/exporters/traders of this route. The Khunjerab border has remained closed for routine trade since December 2019.
As per an official at the Ministry of Commerce, Adviser to PM on Commerce and Investment Abdul Razak Dawood has taken up the matter with Chinese officials and subsequent meetings with the Chinese ambassador in Islamabad were planned for discussing the matter.
Pakistan had previously 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.
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.