China to allow Nepal to use its ports

China vying with India for influence in landlocked nation

KATHMANDU • China will allow landlocked Nepal to use its ports for trading goods with third countries, a senior official in Kathmandu has said, potentially ending India's decades-long monopoly over the impoverished country's trading routes.

A prolonged blockade of its border crossings with India last year by protesters demanding changes to a new Constitution left Nepal desperately short of fuel and goods, throwing into sharp relief its dependence on routes into its southern neighbour.

Nepalese Prime Minister K.P. Oli signed an agreement with his Chinese counterpart, Premier Li Keqiang, during a visit to Beijing this week to give Nepalese traders access to land routes and ports in China, Commerce Ministry official Rabi Shankar Sainju said.

"This is a historic agreement for Nepal," Mr Sainju told Reuters. "This cannot be an alternative to the Indian port but it is an additional route to boost our trade."

The routes and ports that Nepal, sandwiched between China and India, can use will be decided by officials from Kathmandu and Beijing soon, he said.

China is vying to increase its influence in Nepal, challenging India's long-held position as the dominant outside power.

Beijing this week also agreed to consider building a railway into Nepal, supply petroleum products and to start a feasibility study for a free trade agreement.

Nepal, still trying to recover from two devastating earthquakes last year, adopted its first post-monarchy Constitution in September, hoping that this would usher in peace and stability after years of conflict.

But protesters blocked trucks coming in from India, leading to acute shortages.

Nepal blamed New Delhi for siding with the protesters, a charge that India denied.

Nepal currently uses the eastern Indian port at Kolkata for trade but officials said this has become congested. India has offered to allow Nepal use of a second port.

The Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry said Nepal lacked the roads and railways to reach Chinese ports, located more than 3,000km from its border.

"Theoretically, it is a good thing. But we have to do a lot of work before we can actually use the Chinese route," senior official Bhawani Rana said.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 25, 2016, with the headline 'China to allow Nepal to use its ports'. Print Edition | Subscribe