Practice English Speaking&Listening with: How does 'free trade' actually work in heavily-controlled border regions?

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over the past couple of decades there has been lot of media fanfare and some

fear about the pace of rapid economic change in Asia. In the name of

development China and India are building new border roads and reopening old

border posts for increased trade opportunities. You may think that opening

borders for trade will create more opportunities for economic growth but in

this case it creates more limitations for some people. This is to some extent a

global phenomenon. My research looks at how this works in the Himalayan

Borderlands, between two states that are swiftly becoming major players in the

global economy. Are they opening it up or is it all a charade? Working with two

generations of traders who have sold and purchased goods across Himalayan borders

between the 1950s and now I ask: how does the so-called free trade work in a

heavily controlled border region like this one?

this research was necessarily historical and multi-sided. I spent time with

elderly Tibetan traders who were the kings of trade in the 1950s before the

border closed in 1962. they brought sheep wool and yak tales from Lhasa Tibet

which were exported to buyers around the world. In fact, the white yak tales were

used for making beards for Santa Clauses in malls which explains their popularity

I also worked with the children of these traders who resumed trading when the

border between Tibet and India was reopened in 2006. they were looking

forward to reigniting economic relationships across the border in 2006

however they found that the promises of unlimited free trade across an open

border we're anything but. the flimsy old barbed-wire boundary was taken away but

it was replaced by hard 7-meter stone walls. Indian traders were affected as

well, they were only allowed to import 15 kinds of commodities from the China side

the list of allowed goods was limited to items from the past like yak tails and

wool but no mobile phones or media players. So opening a border often limits

certain kinds of movement and it creates more opportunities for state regulation

moreover in contrast to the 1950s trade was only allowed along a single route

that couldn't handle the monsoon rains causing landslides that regularly wiped

out the roads. so while a conventional globalization narrative is often about

increased connections and transnational mobility, in fact the reality of

cross-border trade is nothing like this. traders are prone to being blocked but

are also forced to divert around closed borders. this is particularly the case

for minority groups such as the Tibetan traders, the kings of trade from the past

many were unable to compete with Chinese traders who could more easily navigate

the new policies. still other Tibetan but also Indian traders carved out new

routes new markets or returned to the barter system in order to survive.

opening and closing borders and the people who move around these

restrictions present a human geography of economic change that is often

overlooked in the master narrative of development in China and India. in fact,

the global impact of these informal economic processes in border areas is

severely underestimated

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