ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and China are set to resume two-side trade through the Khunjerab Pass, the only land route between the two countries, after almost three years of suspension due to the Covid-19 outbreak. The pass, which connects Pakistan’s Gilgit Baltistan region with China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, is scheduled to be fully operational from April 1, 2023.
The pass had been closed for trade activities after the outbreak of Covid-19 in 2020. It was briefly reopened last year to allow one side trade – imports from China only. The border remained closed despite a significant reduction in pandemic cases and the resumption of trade activities worldwide.
The government of Gilgit Baltistan had previously stopped two shipping containers carrying goods from entering Pakistan through the Khunjerab Pass in January 2020 and had requested the federal government to delay the reopening of the border crossing for trade as a precautionary measure. Later the Chinese side remained reluctant to open the border for trade after the pandemic spread in Pakistan.
However, with the recent decline in positivity rates, the relevant authorities are presently making efforts to green-light customs clearance, hoping to drive up cross-border trade and business in the post-Covid-19 era.
Apart from the closure of the border due to Covid-19 related issues, the border usually remains open from April 1 to November 30 every year and remains closed from December 1 to March 31 due to harsh winter weather conditions and a lack of oxygen at high altitudes.
The Khunjerab Pass holds its significance as the highest paved border crossing in the world, offering picturesque scenery and a hot tourist location. In 2019, prior to Covid-induced shutdowns, trade volume between China and Pakistan surged by nearly 47% to $856.3 million at the Khunjerab Pass.
Foreign Office spokespersons have confirmed that Islamabad and Beijing have decided to reopen the Khunjerab Border in two phases. The first phase includes the opening of the Hongqi Lafu port (Khunjerab dry port) in April 2022, followed by the full resumption of trade activities from April 1, 2023.
The Khunjerab Port is the only land port linking Pakistan and China and is a strategic point on the Karakoram Highway, linking Gilgit Baltistan, Pakistan, and Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, China. The reopening of the border is expected to boost economic ties and strengthen the relationship between the two countries.