Business communities of India and Bangladesh are looking at the UN TIR (Transports Internationaux Routiers) system as a potential alternative to the existing inter-border and multi-border transportation system to boost trade and economy among the South Asian nations.
According to the European Commission's website, the TIR system is the international customs transit system with the widest geographical coverage. As with other customs transit procedures, the TIR procedure enables goods to move under customs control across international borders without the payment of the duties and taxes that would normally be due at importation or exportation.
However, the system has several limitations, including a condition that the movement of the goods must include transport by road, authorisation of only certain logistic providers, standardisation of the vehicles to a certain degree, etc., the business people said at a webinar on "UN TIR system and its benefits of expansion to Bangladesh and other BBIN (Bhutan, Bangladesh, India and Nepal)" on Thursday.
The virtual discussion was jointly organised by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) Bangladesh, the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI) & the International Road Transport Union (IRU).
Despite those limitations, business communities and government officials of the two countries have expressed positive attitudes about using the system.
The TIR streamlines border crossing procedures and reduces congestion and saves time at borders, thus decreasing costs of trade. Under the TIR, clearance of goods can be done at the final destination rather than on borders.
AK Azad, vice-president of ICC Bangladesh, said, "BBIN signed the Motor Vehicle Agreement in 2015, to facilitate passenger and goods transport in the region."
"The UN Road Transport Conventions such as the TIR convention along with other global standards could help the effective implementation of that agreement. Further, the intermodal aspect of the TIR system that encompasses rail, sea and air would also play an important role in connecting this region to the world," he said.
Kazem Asayesh, senior adviser of IRU, said, "TIR is the only globally applicable international customs transit and guarantee system. 77 countries are signatories to the UN TIR Convention. Over 34,000 transport and logistics companies use it to move goods across international borders.
Meanwhile, PS Pruthi, senior consultant at FICCI, said, "It is an advantage of the TIR system that no documents are needed at transit countries. But Bangladesh is not a signatory to the TIR convention."
"I do not understand why trade only by sea route is not included in the TIR system as it needs at least a portion of the transport (to be done) by road. Authorisation of logistic operators is another issue where only certain operators are being authorised, which is discouraging to small traders," he said.
"We have to think about how we can enhance trade among BBIN countries by overcoming these limitations," he added.
Kabir Ahmed, president of the Bangladesh Freight Forwarders Association (BAFFA), said there are five routes connecting Bangladesh with Nepal, Bhutan and India but there is no progress except the route connecting Agartala and Kolkata.
Meanwhile, focusing on the implementation of the BBIN transport agreement, Satish Kumar Reddy, consultant, ADB, said it has been five years since the agreement was signed, but there is no significant improvement in this regard.
Khairul Kabir Mia, first secretary, customs international trade and agreement, National Board of Revenue (NBR), recommended amendment of the TIR convention by adding and removing some rules.
"At present, it cannot be said whether TIR is a good system or not," he said, adding that more study is needed on the subject.
Although there are different opinions on the use of the TIR system, business leaders are claiming to have support from bureaucrats on the matter.
Ataur Rahman, secretary-general at ICC Bangladesh, said, "There is a political will, and bureaucrats are with us. We have to seriously think of the TIR as an alternative transportation system."