Export halts as China shuts borders

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Sanitation gate at Gashuunsukhait border checkpoint

Mongolia’s exports of coal and copper concentrate had completely ceased from June 13 to 16 due to recent COVID-19 outbursts, but restarted on Wednesday, says the Ministry of Roads and Transport Development.

“The border checkpoints are in a dire state amid the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Yo.Jargalsaikhan, head of the Road Transport Policy Implementation and Coordination Department at the ministry. “Since the pandemic outbreak, we had been wary of transporting COVID-19 into Mongolia, but now the spread of the virus is widespread in the country. Hence, other countries have become cautious about transmitting COVID-19 from Mongolia. China is especially cautious and is enhancing its border control as it is becoming a healthier region. We are complying with Chinese requirements. We are paying special attention to this matter at Gashuunsukhait, Zamiin-Uud and Shiveekhuren border checkpoints.”

This is not the first time China closed its borders with Mongolia over COVID-19 concerns. Previously, exports had to be suspended back on March 15 after an Oyu Tolgoi worker tested positive for the novel virus. This time, the Chinese side shut entry for Mongolian trucks as new daily COVID-19 cases peaked in Mongolia. The State Emergency Commission, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Mining and Heavy Industry, Ministry of Foreign Relations, and National Road Center have formed a working group to deal with the issue.

The Ministry of Roads and Transport Development is reportedly studying the infection risk and making necessary arrangements to improve the border situation. As of June 16, more than 6,000 short-haul drivers were stuck at Tsagaan Khad border crossing, according to Yo.Jargalsaikhan. He added that before the pandemic, 1,000 drivers were allowed to pass through the border and make rounds once a week but now, it’s taking them 60 days to make their rounds. The official warned that Mongolia’s export will face a bigger blow if the number of drivers allowed entry to China is reduced.

Drivers are already facing considerable losses as they have to wait many days to pass through the border. Lower income for truck drivers means lower tax revenue to the state budget, warns Yo.Jargalsaikhan. Around 100 trucks a day report- edly are crossing the Gashuunsukhait, the main border checkpoint for mineral exports, as opposed to the pre-pandemic average of 800 to 1,500 trucks per day. Up to 15,000 freight vehicles are queuing to pass through Gashuunsukhait. Reportedly, 6,000 of these trucks are short-haul trucks and the rest are long haul. Nevertheless, this hasn’t affected China’s demand for coal.

Head of the Mining Policy Department of the Ministry of Mining and Heavy Industry B.Elbegzaya noted, “China’s demand for coal hasn’t decreased, but the border is in a difficult situation due to COVID-19. As China’s coal demand is high, all we need to do reduce the infection risk. Tsagaan Khad’s grounds are packed right now. It’s impossible to allow more trucks to enter since it could increase infection risks and lead to the extent we need to close the border. The only issue is COVID-19. The Chines side will not allow coal truck drivers to pass through over COVID-19 concerns.”

The official added that China is closing its border whenever a driver fails the spot test for COVID-19. He added that Chinese companies are demanding their coal supplies – around 10 million tons of coal are stranded at Tsagaan Khad.

Tavan Tolgoi mine’s inventory has up to 4 million tons of coal ready for shipping. However, around 1,500 trucks are lining between Tavan Tolgoi mine and Gashuunsukhait border checkpoint. At the Shiveekhuren border checkpoint, 92 drivers passed the PCR test and been allowed entry into the Chinese territory.

Dulguun Bayarsaikhan