Protest against high tax, corruption at Sost port enters second day – Newspaper

GILGIT: Traders at the Sost dry port have suspended trade with China, protesting the unusually high tax being charged at the port and the “corrupt practices” of the customs collector posted at the site last month.

The traders protested for a second day on the port premises and threatened to block the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) route if their demands were not met.

Gilgit-Baltistan Importers and Exporters Association’s President Muhammad Iqbal, and Nasir Hussein Raki, Sherbaz Khan and Gul Sher of the GB, Nagar and Hunza chambers of commerce, respectively, addressed the protesters.

Cross-border trade with China suspended

The Khunjerab Pass — the highest paved Sino-Pak border at 15,500 feet above sea level — remains closed for four months from December to March under a border protocol agreement signed between the two countries. However, it’s expected that the dry port will be made operational throughout the year once trade under CPEC begins.

The route was closed in November 2019 after the outbreak of Covid-19 in China, only to be partially opened two and a half years later in June this year under a new agreement and standard operating procedures (SOPs).

Under the new arrangement, Chinese transporters leave their containers at the Khunjerab Pass, and the traders on the other side of the border have to bear the extra cost of shipping these containers to the Sost port.

Local traders say they have already suffered enough and the partial resumption of the trade earlier this year created hope. However, the way the GB customs collector, according to the traders, had been creating hurdles for them since his appointment last month is just “unbearable”.

The customs collector did not answer calls for comment on Friday.

The traders said they were already paying billions of rupees in taxes and customs duties at Sost port and claimed that the tax imposed by the collector was higher than what traders in even Karachi, Islamabad, Peshawar and other ports were paying. They also took exception to the way they were being treated by the official. They also lamented that the collector was devising clearance policies in consultation with “irrelevant people”, and the GB taxpayers had been sidelined.

Trader Mahboob Rabbani said several collectors had been transferred from here in the past year, and every collector had their policy and created hurdles for local traders in their own ways.

Mr Iqbal, the president of GB Importers and Exporters Association, said the collector was reluctant to negotiate with traders, adding that traders’ bodies had held many successful negotiations with junior customs officials.

He said all traders, their organisations and chambers of commerce were united, and they would not resume trade until their demands were accepted.

He emphasised that the border is set to close on Nov 31 and the traders only have one and a half months to earn their livelihood.

Meanwhile, a delegation of GB trade bodies led by Nasir Hussein Raki and Muhammad Iqbal met GB governor on Friday and presented their demands and requested the governor to play his role in resolving the issue.

Published in Dawn, October 15th, 2022

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