Chinese imports stalled at India's ports and airports amid border row

Imports from China are being subject to intense physical checks since tensions spiked following the deaths of 20 Indian soldiers in a border clash on June 15, 2020. PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW DELHI - As tensions remain high along the India-China border, a fallout of the border row appears to be Chinese imports being stuck at ports and airports across India where they go through intense checks.

Imports range from pulse oximeters to printed circuit boards, active pharmaceutical ingredients and chemicals for fertilisers.

It is understood that imports from China, valued at US$70.3 billion (S$98 billion) in 2019, have been subject to intense physical checks since tensions spiked following the deaths of 20 Indian soldiers in a border clash on June 15.

Associations representing different industries from automobiles, phones and computers to electronics and agriculture said they are getting distress calls from members. They have urged the government to ensure faster clearances to prevent manufacturing disruptions.

"There are thousands of operators and thousands of importers who have been impacted. It's a very difficult situation," said Mr Pankaj Mohindroo, chairman of the India Cellular and Electronics Association, which represents manufacturers like Taiwan's Foxconn.

The mobile and electronics industry, which includes manufacturers, brand owners and technology providers, gets a billion dollars worth of imports from China every week.

"We were shut down for 60 days and we have reopened and restarted. Already we have lost 40,000 crore (400 billion rupees or S$7.4 billion) of production in the lockdown. At the moment, recovery is not up to normal levels. We are at 40 per cent level and few raw materials have run out," said Mr Mohindroo.

India imposed a shutdown for two months starting end March, suspending economic activity to curb the spread of the coronvirus.

"We have been assured by the government that there will be some action the next day or two," said Mr Mohindroo.

Those in the know said that checks of imported goods have been intensified.

"The official reason being given is they have some intelligence tip-off of contraband being imported into the country. But the objective is to make things difficult for Chinese imports," said a person with knowledge of the matter who did not want to be quoted.

A Customs official said on condition of anonymity that there was a security alert, leading to greater scrutiny of all paperwork against the goods being brought in.

"There is an alert in the system and we are checking what kind of goods are coming in and whether it conforms to the laws of the land," said the official.

India and China have a strong economic relationship that was delinked from border tensions. But their violent border clash has seen border tensions impact economic ties.

India on Monday (June 29) banned 59 Chinese apps including Tik Tok, citing security reasons. On Tuesday, a government minister announced that Chinese companies would not be allowed to participate in highway projects.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday exited Chinese social media website Weibo, five years after he debuted with "Hello China".

The economic measures have come even as India and China have held talks to reduce tensions along the Line of Actual Control or the de facto border.

On Wednesday, military sources said that in the military talks on Tuesday, both sides "emphasised the need for an expeditious, phased and stepwise de-escalation as a priority" but noted resolution is a "complex process."

Mr Neeraj Kedia, managing director of Chakradhar Chemicals, has been waiting to receive his shipment of chemicals used for making fertilisers since June 16.

On Wednesday, he got news that his shipment was being released from Chennai port, two weeks after it landed there. Customs clearance usually takes three to four days.

"I am a little apprehensive of further imports. My next shipment is on the high seas," he said.

Correction note: This story has been updated to reflect the correct designation of Mr Pankaj Mohindroo. We are sorry for the error.

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