NATHU LA PASS, India, Sept 11 (AFP): The world's two most populous countries India and China are working to set up their first direct trade link since a 1962 border war by reopening a section of the famed Silk Road, Indian officials said today.
The point of contact is the 4,545-metre Nathu La pass on the border between India's Sikkim and China's Tibet where hundreds of Indian workers are repairing roads and building customs facilities, Sikkim government spokesman BB Gurung told the news agency.
"As per plans, border trading is to begin from October 2 with the reopening of the traditional Silk Road," Gurung said. "Infrastructure development and construction of roads leading to Nathu La is going on at a brisk pace and everything should be complete before the deadline."
The trading post, 52 kilometres east of the Sikkim capital Gangtok, is the clearest sign yet of rapproachment between the two countries which still dispute much of their 4,000-kilometre border that stretches from Kashmir
in the west to India's far-eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh.
Nathu La was a major trading point between the two countries before the 1962 war. It was also one of the main arteries of the Silk Road which historically linked China via Central Asia to Europe.
The initial trade is expected to be much the same as in the Silk Road days with Chinese silk, yak tails, and raw wool likely to hit Indian markets via the small village of Sherathang, about five kilometers from the Nathu La pass, traders said.
India expects to export farm products, textiles, watches, shoes, canned food, tobacco, rice, and dried fruit.
The prospect of border trading has generated much interest in Sikkim where unemployment is high.
"Once trading resumes, the economy of the region will change for the better and with it we expect to get a major boost in the tourism sector as well," said Sikkim Chief Minister Pawan Kumar Chamling.
Both countries have recently pushed for greater trade to tap a consumer market of 2.3 billion people, with two-way trade now around 14 billion dollars.