There have been no imports to the Attari Integrated Checkpoint (ICP) from Afghanistan in the past four days due to a signing issue by authorities in the war-torn country on certifications in under the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA).
SAFTA is the Free Trade Agreement of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). The agreement entered into force in 2006, succeeding the SAARC Preferential Trade Arrangement of 1993. SAFTA signatory countries are Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal , Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
The ICP, which facilitates India’s trade with Pakistan and Afghanistan, has worn a deserted appearance due to the stalemate, which has left traders from India and Afghanistan in dilemma, in addition to dealing a heavy blow to hundreds of truckers and porters.
“No truck has come from Afghanistan for four days. There has been a problem regarding SAFTA and customs officers are dealing with it,” said an official from the Land Port Authority of India (LPAI), which handles the affairs of the ICP.
He said: “Before the problem, about 20 trucks were importing cereals, onions, dried fruits and fresh fruits from Afghanistan.
Anil Mehra, President of Karyana Federation and Dried Fruit Association, said: “After the Taliban took over Afghanistan, the officers in the country also changed. Indian Customs raised an objection regarding the officers’ signatures on SAFTA related certification. Amritsar Customs has written to its headquarters in New Delhi seeking clarification on the signatures from Afghan authorities. I also plan to meet with customs officials in New Delhi to sort out the issue with the Afghan government as soon as possible.
He said around 150 trucks loaded with dried fruits and other items were waiting for customs clearance at the Wagah border. “If these trucks are not cleared within a few days, items imported from Afghanistan and stuck at the Wagah border may be damaged. Indian traders, who have already paid for their stocks, will suffer a huge loss,” Mehra said. Repeated calls to the Deputy Commissioner of Customs (DC) at Attari Chandan Kumar went unanswered.
Meanwhile, Lakhwinder Singh, a porter at ICP, said: “With the trade halted, 1,433 porter families are suffering. We were already living a difficult life due to the Covid-19 crisis. The government should take immediate action to start the trade.
The ICP had only witnessed imports from Afghanistan. Trade between India and Pakistan was stopped after New Delhi repealed Article 370. Pakistan also stopped India’s exports to Afghanistan by a unilateral decision.