A new avenue to access transnational markets has opened up for Nepal as freight trains have begun departing from China on a weekly basis with goods destined for Nepal, in an initiative that is said to be the first of its kind in South Asia.
The first cargo train carrying COVID-19 medical equipment and construction material from Xi’an arrived in Xigatse earlier this week, signalling the activation of the 2016 Nepal-China Transit Transport Agreement signed in the aftermath of the Indian border blockade. Another cargo train with 390 tonnes of goods worth $1.3 million bound for Nepal also arrived in Xigatse from Lanzhou.
Under the TTA, Nepal is granted direct land access to China’s sea ports on the eastern seaboard in Tianjin, Shenzhen, Lianyungang and Zhanjiang in addition to land ports in Lhasa, Lanzhou and Xigatse. Experts expect these new corridors to shorten arrival times for international cargo, which currently takes 35 days to get to Kathmandu via Indian ports.
“Transport along the new corridors promise to be time-efficient, and if costs prove to be competitive, our use of Chinese ports for international trade will increase in future,” predicts Nepal’s acting ambassador in Beijing Sushil Lamsal.
The trains take up to ten days from the mainland to Xigatse, and the containers have to be transferred to trucks for the two-day drive across the Tibetan Plateau to the Nepal border at Rasuwa, or a day-and-half to the Kodari checkpoint. However, roads on the Nepal side have still not been properly repaired after damage in the 2015 earthquake and the goods have to be transferred to smaller Nepali lorries.