During the virtual meet-the-press conference held on friday, Economic Affairs Minister, Loknath Sharma, said that vegetable trading has always been done informally along the many entry and exit points along the border before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lyonpo said that now the neighboring country (India) is strengthening customs checkpoints, and a slew of new paperwork is being requested, which the ministry cannot handle right away.
“For vegetables and fruits, Pest Risk Analysis (PRA) paper works are necessary. If this is not clear, the export will be not done. Even if it is cleared, a plant quarantine order will be required, as well as a sanitary certificate document, which is also required by BAFRA. So we are facing these challenges,” Lyonpo said.
According to the Economic Affairs Minister, there was a cardamom export difficulty in 2018, because prior to then, only asparagus was formalized and nothing else was established. Cardamom was also put on the list, along with mandarin, apple, potato, ginger that received the PRA approval. However, submission for PRA approval has been made for cabbage, cauliflower, carrot, pea, and soya bean.
“Actually, they do it every quarter. They only disclose their list in September and October, and then send out a notification stating that PRA for these items has been approved. So we’ve requested a lot during our biweekly meetings that it will be too late for us because the cabbage and carrot season will be over. For this season, we’ve asked the embassy to exempt cabbage and carrots,” Lyonpo said, adding that Indian Embassy has assured that they are closely monitoring the situation and that they will assist us within the next week and the government is awaiting confirmation.
As a result of COVID-19, every country is attempting to streamline and systematize, which is why problems have arisen said Lyonpo.
Lyonpo added, “We’re doing our best, and while issues have arisen this season, we’ve already placed it in the system, and we’ve asked for a Plant Quarantine Officer in Jaigaon and they’ve already granted a transfer order, and one of the officers will be in Jaigaon. Things are progressing, although there are currently concerns about the export of cabbage and carrots, as well as the export of ginger. They’ve issued a PRA for soil-free ginger, and they have an import limitation policy, so we’re working on that as well. We will have to activate some of our scheme if things don’t work.”
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister Dasho (Dr) Lotay Tshering said that no one in the country knew how many Bhutanese were leaving the nation until recently, and no system in the country knew how many were returning, but now the country does because of the COVID-19 norms.
“Previously, in the international trading, you would take a truck to Nobdhing and buy potatoes, then drive down to Phuentsholing and auction them. People from the neighboring country would come and buy the doma, and the Bhutanese owner would do nothing except accept the money. And it’s been going on for a long time,” the Prime Minister said.
Lyonchhen said, “We informed the farmers that all of the produces come in together. For example, two months ago, chillies were rare. Now, the price has dropped down and will continue to fall. And then we would be blamed since there are no chilli customers. Because every farmer now produces chillies, they won’t be able to sell it in the market until we double our chilli consumption.”
Different agencies, like Department of Agriculture and Marketing Cooperatives, Department of Marketing Division, FCBL and embassies are working on economy diplomacy, and the government has tasked the embassies to do economic affairs works.
“We want to stock Bhutanese products on the shelves of our regional offices in Delhi, Dhaka, and Kathmandu, and we are working on it,” Lyonchhen added.