5th Joint Group of Customs meeting between India & Bhutan

May 08: The 5th Joint Group of Customs (JGC) meeting between India and Bhutan was held on 6th-7th May 2024 in Leh, Ladakh. The meeting was co-chaired by Mr. Surjit Bhujabal, Special Secretary and Member (Customs), Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs, Government of India, and Mr. Sonam Jamtsho, Director General, Department of Revenue and Customs, Ministry of Finance, Royal Government of Bhutan.

The 5th JGC meeting discussed a host of bilateral issues such as the opening of new Land Customs Stations and notifying new trade routes, development of infrastructure, automation and digitization of transit processes, prevention of smuggling, coordinated cross-border management, pre-arrival exchange of Customs data, a bilateral agreement on Customs cooperation and movement of transit cargo under electronic cargo system among others.

Bhutan thanked the Government of India and particularly the Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs for the continued support in providing capacity building, training, and skill development through workshops, seminars, and various training programs, including the IRS program to the Bhutan customs administration. Also, Bhutan expressed sincere appreciation to the Indian Government for initiating and promoting the cross-border trade and economic activities with Bhutan through the various bilateral agreements.

The India-Bhutan Joint Group of Customs meetings are held annually to discuss issues relating to re-defining and re-engineering of Customs procedures and promote Customs cooperation and cross-border trade facilitation with alignment to global best practices. These meetings play a vital role in enhancing connectivity and developing trade infrastructure for smooth customs clearance at land borders. There are 10 Land Customs Stations along the India-Bhuan Border in the States of West Bengal (6) and Assam (4).

India is Bhutan’s top trade partner both as an import source and as an export destination. Since 2014, India’s trade with Bhutan has more than tripled from $484 million in 2014-15 to $1,615 million in 2022-23, accounting for about 80% of Bhutan’s overall trade. Trade with Bhutan through the land Customs Stations is significant as Bhutan is a land-locked country.  Enhancing connectivity with Bhutan is pivotal to India’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ and the ‘Act East’ Policy.

The meeting concluded on an optimistic note. Both the countries agreed on discovering new strands of complementarities between India and Bhutan that can be maximized for mutual benefit, respond to the expectations and aspirations of the youth, and adapt to the rapid changes related to new technologies and social innovations. Both sides also agreed to consider new developments for facilitating customs and trade cooperation for mutual prosperity. 

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