Whatever be the guarantees the international laws and conventions provide to the landlocked countries regarding their access to the sea, ultimately what matters is the political relation between the land-locked countries and their transit neighbors. This is the same in South Asia.
Out of four Least Developed Countries of South Asia, transit treaty signed by Nepal, Bhutan and Afghanistan to their neighbors are different in terms of facilities. For instance, Bhutan gets much concession in transit with India, compared to Nepal. Similarly, Afghanistan is facing many problems dealing with Pakistan on the transit issue.
Nepal-India transit treaty, effective from January 6, 2006, is going to expire in coming January after completing seven years. The officials of the two countries are in the initial stage of negotiations.
“We have been holding discussions among various ministries and looking at it to see if there is a need to include any new agenda,” said Naindra Prasad Upadhyaya, joint secretary of the Ministry of Commerce. “We have already sent our initial proposal to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Nepal and Indian officials will hold the meeting soon. As the Kolkata Port is over congested and inefficient for being capable only to accept small vessels, we want another alternative port like Visakapatnam as an alternative.”
At a function organized by the Association of Former Career Ambassadors of Nepal (AFCAN) and South Asia Center for Policy Studies (SACEPS), experts pointed the need to make the new transit treaty help facilitate Nepal’s trade with the third world countries as well as with India.
In South Asia, Nepal, Bhutan and Afghanistan are three land locked countries which solely depend upon their neighbors for the transit of goods. Nepal and Bhutan rely on India and Afghanistan relies on Pakistan to access the sea for foreign trade.
Inaugurated by Secretary-General of SAARC Ahmed Saleem, the workshop saw two papers presented by experts. Chaired by Madhuraman Acharya, executive Director of SACEPS, former commerce secretary Purushottam Ojha presented a paper on Assessment of Implementation of Almaty Program of Action (APOA) in South Asia and recommendation for a post Almaty discourse on transit cooperation.
Chaired by Kedar Bhakta Shrestha, president of AFCAN, Dr. Ratnakar Adhikari, director of South Asia Watch for Trade Economy and Environment (SAWTEE), presented the paper on framework for regional cooperation on transit transport cooperation in South Asia and a potential future roadmap for deepening the regional connectivity and transit transport integration.
Transit treaty remains one of the major concerns for Nepal. Among the world’s 13 landlocked developing countries, Nepal has been facing several constraints that limit its competiveness in the international trade. Nepal is incurring a huge amount of loss in transit as it is currently using Kolkata Port, which is virtually unable to dock big ships due to the rising delta.
“Out of five rail corridors, one is connecting Birgunj with Kolkata/Haldia and the other is connecting Mongla-Chitagon via Katihar-Rohanpur. Both the routes are very long and time consuming due to poor infrastructure” said Ojha.
Unlike in the past, the transit treaty also includes the right to transit to India also. According to the recent treaty, Nepal government agreed to permit India to use Nepali land if the latter required it for transporting goods from one part of India to another. Nepal and India maintain 15 transit points. However, the Indian government had demanded reduction of the number of transit points.
“Transit issue is a very complex thing. For a country like Nepal, access to sea is essential for diversification of trade,” said Madhuraman Acharya. In this context, the workshop was expected to pave the way to make transit transport cooperation in South Asia smooth.