As a result of the pandemic, the import and export business has become institutionalized, and this has become the norm around the world.
Bhutan encountered difficulties in exporting potato and ginger, and areca nut to India.
According to the Economic Minister Loknath Sharma, there is a strict requirement to have soil free potato and ginger, as they are Renewable Natural Resources (RNR) root product, and can carry diseases when soil is present. In addition, India does not allow ginger imports from any country other than Nepal. India also has its restriction on the import of areca nut from Bhutan.
If the areca nut is processed and has value addition, then it has some export potential.
Lyonpo said that all informal trade routes were closed as the monitoring system improved during the pandemic. Now, the trade and customs checks are upgraded and strictly implemented using software system.
“That is why the export problem occurred, particularly in the case of ginger, areca nuts, and potatoes. We had a similar issue with other 10 vegetables. Though these vegetables do not have restrictive policies, they did have some requirements but were exported smoothly,” Lyonpo said.
The issue of areca nut and ginger exports surfaced in 2021, and the government was forced to buy back ginger through Food Corporation of Bhutan Limited (FCBL) this year.
The government has provided funds to FCBL to purchase ginger from the farmers. Because of the import restrictions, FCBL was also unable to market the ginger.
Lyonpo said that although India prohibits the import of areca nut, however, the ministry was informed the day before yesterday that India will lift the ban on areca nut soon.
“This time, we have resolved the issues concerning the areca nut, and they will undoubtedly facilitate the export. Potato has also been considered until June, and before June, they will facilitate, as per the Free Trade Agreement, and Bhutan doesn’t have many demands, so ginger issue is solved and potato is there until June, and we are expecting that they will extend further or withdraw such time restrictions and allow the export,” Lyonpo said.
Lyonpo remarked that potato, ginger, and areca nut will be fine in the coming season and these problems will not reoccur in the future. Lyonpo added that there have been enough discussions between the two countries to resolve the issues.
“That is what we have been doing consistently. On the ground, the SSB and customs are refusing to accept because of the restrictions. As soon as I received notification that the ginger restriction had been lifted, I notified FCBL, and they began sending the ginger. As a result, we do not anticipate any problems on the ground. They will not cause unnecessary complications if there wasn’t a restriction. And now that it has been lifted, there will be no problems,” Lyonpo said.
Meanwhile, the Government of India (GoI) has lifted the import restriction on ginger from Bhutan on 19 May 2022. India’s Department of Commerce, Ministry of Commerce and Industry, notified that the import of wholly produced ginger from Bhutan is free subject to Article–I of the Agreement on Trade, Commerce and Transit between India and Bhutan.
The issue was raised broadly in talks when the Indian Minister for External Affairs Dr S. Jaishankar visited Bhutan.