Bhutan’s boulder export industry has seen a substantial boost, with a remarkable 36.5% increase recorded during the first quarter of 2023 compared to the same period in 2022. The nation exported boulders valued at Nu 467 mn in the initial three months of 2023, marking an impressive increase of Nu 125 mn from the previous year.
This surge in boulder exports translates to a contribution of approximately USD 5.6 mn to Bhutan’s foreign reserves, fueled by an exchange rate of Nu 82.65 against the US Dollar in 2023. However, analysts highlight that had Bhutan sustained its export pace from 2021, the revenue from this sector could have been even higher. In 2021, the country managed to export boulders worth Nu 2.6 bn, averaging around Nu 620 mn per quarter.
Additionally, the country exported boulders worth Nu 4.89 bn in 2019, which means that Bhutan exported around Nu 1.2 bn worth of boulders per quarter.
Reports from Bhutan’s trade statistics for the first quarter of 2023 show that boulders rank among the top ten exports, generating Nu 467 mn. This contribution has significantly impacted the country’s economy.
Officials from the Natural Resource Development Corporation Limited (NRDCL), the entity responsible for exporting boulders to India and Bangladesh, emphasize that the export process is not devoid of challenges. Issues such as transportation difficulties, overloading, and various challenges encountered during transit have hindered the smooth flow of exports.
“The challenges faced by exporters are high and comprise en route expenses, high transportation cost, bad conditions, and overload issues,” stated an NRDCL official.
A glimmer of hope emerges on the horizon in the form of an upcoming 57-kilometer railway that will connect Gelephu with Kokrajhar, Assam, anticipated to be operational by 2026. This development is expected to address many of the current challenges related to boulder exportation and herald a new era for the sector.
Further many exporter in the country said that currently, transportation is the main bottleneck in exporting the boulders.
Today, the boulders are exported from Dhubri riverport in Assam to Narayanganj in Bangladesh.
Additionally, the introduction of three-land custom stations (LCS) for Bhutanese exporters using both Bhutanese and Indian registered trucks has brought changes to the trade landscape. This system was first implemented in the Changrabandha LCS on September 26, 2022.
The implementation of the Suvidha App, an online portal facilitating the trade process, has not been without complications. Bhutanese truckers have raised concerns about the application’s impact on their operations. The Bhutanese foreign minister, Lyonpo Tandi Dorji, conveyed that discussions are ongoing with the Indian government to address these concerns. The Suvidha App’s fee structure has also been a point of contention, leading to negotiations and adjustments in rates.
It’s worth noting that the Suvidha issue has prompted discussions within Bhutan. The Bhutan Exporters Association (BEA) has brought up concerns about its alignment with existing trade agreements between the Royal Government of Bhutan and the Government of India. The BEA expressed that certain aspects of the Suvidha App and associated fees potentially contradict these agreements.
The NRDCL official further outlined challenges in the boulder export process, highlighting the limitations of river ports designated for Bhutan’s use. Small port sizes, inadequate infrastructure, and loading equipment have led to extended waiting times for loading materials onto vessels. The loading capacity remains limited to around 300 metric tons per barge, and only a handful of barges can be loaded daily due to these constraints.
As Bhutan navigates these challenges, the growth in boulder exports stands as a promising indicator of economic vitality. The ongoing negotiations and developments, particularly the forthcoming railway, offer hope for a more streamlined export process in the near future.
Tshering Pelden from Thimphu