After border clash, Kolkata traders lose appetite for China imports – Times of India

Kolkata News
KOLKATA: Businessmen in Kolkata seem to have pushed pause on imports from China in response to a nationwide clamour to boycott Chinese goods following the death of 20 Indian soldiers in a skirmish with Chinese forces in a high-altitude clash in the Ladakh region last week.

Traders who deal in Chinese goods in Kolkata either immediately cancelled their orders or deferred the despatch of consignments from China, sensing trouble, as a wave of anti-China protests swept through the country with people smashing China-made television sets and mobile phones. Most of them, however, privately acknowledged that the move would further hurt business, already reeling under the lockdown.
Kolkata-based economists and businessmen, however, say that boycotting Chinese goods is easier said than done as decoupling the two economies is not possible until India develops its roads and transport network and courts investments from other countries.
Businessmen in Kolkata import a host of items from China: heavy machinery, electronic goods, raw materials for pharmaceuticals, footwear, cosmetics and toys, just to name a few. Most big mobile phone brands in China have set up factories here, employing thousands of Indians. Most wholesale and retail markets in Kolkata in Chandni Chowk, Bagri Market, Mehta Building, Ezra Street and Rabindra Sarani are dependent on electronics, toys, footwear, chemicals, machinery and cosmetics imported from China.
Pradip Kumar Luhariwala, president of the eastern zone of All India Electronics Association, said their members in Kolkata had stopped their orders for the time being and were looking at alternatives. “We have hit the pause button on imports from China. We are looking for alternatives within the country and other parts of the world to import electronic items. We have taken this decision to protest against the gruesome killing of our soldiers by Chinese forces,” said Luhariwala, who said the nnual imports of electronics to Kolkata was over Rs 5,000 crore.
An importer of Chinese goods in Chandni Chowk said he feared a backlash by protesters, which is why he has kept his business on hold. Earlier this week, a politician had even said that those using Chinese goods should be beaten up. “The mood is emotional, and protest may turn violent,” said the importer. “They may shift their ire to those selling Chinese goods. I don’t want my office or showroom ransacked, which is why I have decided to wait and watch.”
Some consignments that had been ordered prior to the border skirmish and have landed at the port and airport in Kolkata are getting delayed owing to Customs going slow on clearance.
According to Calcutta Customs House Agents’ Association (CCHAA), who get the consignments cleared at the airport or port terminals, no fresh consignment has been despatched from China in the past week. “Barring the consignments in transition, there has not been any fresh despatch. The decline in import is substantial,” said CCHAA president Subhas Chandra Ghosh.
Earlier this week, Confederation of West Bengal Trade Associations requested close to 70 affiliated associations not to deal in Chinese goods. President Sushil Poddar, however, conceded that it was not possible to find substitutes overnight. “It will take us many years to reach the competitiveness of Chinese manufacturers. Currently, we do not have the wherewithal to deliver goods at the quality and price matching that of the Chinese,” said Poddar.
Economist Amitava Guha said decoupling India’s economy from China’s would be difficult. “The Indian market and its economy is heavily dependent on China, and it generates millions of employment opportunities in sectors like logistics, manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, e-commerce, retail and even after-sales services. Even the startups in India are dependent on Chinese companies for capital,” he argued.