Bhutan thanked India for its unwavering support in building capacity and developing skills
The 5th Joint Group of Customs (JGC) meeting between India and Bhutan took place on the 6th and 7th of May, 2024, in Leh (Ladakh, India) with the primary objective of strengthening bilateral ties and facilitating seamless customs procedures between the two neighbouring countries.
The meeting was co-chaired by Special Secretary and Member (Customs) of the Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs (CBIC), Government of India, Surjit Bhujabal, and Director General, Department of Revenue and Customs, Ministry of Finance, Royal Government of Bhutan, Sonam Jamtsho.
Key Areas of Discussion

A wide range of bilateral issues were on the agenda, reflecting the commitment of both countries to streamline and optimize customs processes. Discussions included:
Opening new Land Customs Stations and notifying new trade routes to further enhance cross-border trade.
Development of infrastructure and automation to digitize transit procedures.
Enhanced measures to prevent smuggling and improve cross-border management.
Pre-arrival exchange of customs data and the movement of transit cargo using an electronic cargo system.
Consideration of a comprehensive bilateral agreement to promote customs cooperation and strengthen economic ties.
Bhutan expressed gratitude to India, particularly the CBIC, for its unwavering support in building capacity and developing skills within Bhutan’s customs administration. This support has been extended through workshops, seminars, and training programs, including the IRS program. Bhutan also appreciated India's proactive initiatives to promote cross-border trade and economic activities through bilateral agreements that enhance trade relationships.
Importance of Annual JGC Meetings

The annual JGC meetings are pivotal in redefining customs procedures and promoting customs cooperation between the two nations. They align with global best practices and play a vital role in enhancing connectivity and developing trade infrastructure at land borders. Currently, there are 10 Land Customs Stations along the India-Bhutan borders, located in West Bengal (6) and Assam (4). Streamlined customs clearance at these stations is critical for Bhutan’s economic growth as a landlocked country.
India remains Bhutan’s top trading partner, both as a source of imports and as an export destination. Since 2014, trade between the two countries has surged, tripling from USD 484 million in 2014-15 to USD 1,615 million in 2022-23, representing 80% of Bhutan's overall trade. The importance of trade through land customs stations is particularly high given Bhutan's lack of direct coastal access. The improved connectivity resonates with India’s 'Neighbourhood First' and 'Act East' policies.
Both countries left the meeting with optimism and a renewed commitment to finding new complementarities that would benefit both sides.
The participants agreed to pursue measures that would:
Maximize mutual benefits by leveraging new complementarities.
Respond to the expectations and aspirations of their youth.
Embrace rapid technological advancements and social innovations.
Facilitate customs cooperation and trade for shared prosperity.
The 5th Joint Group of Customs meeting proved to be a constructive platform for reinforcing bilateral relationships and exploring future opportunities that align with the global standards and evolving economic landscape.