Economists and business people emphasised that maintaining safe work environment and following virus safety guidelines strictly at Customs House Chattogram are necessary to keep import-export running until a Covid-19 vaccine arrives in the country.
At a webinar held on Sunday titled "Health safety for business continuity during Covid-19 for Customs House, Chattogram", they said the country's import-export by sea has started becoming normal as economic activities resumed after a 66-day countrywide shutdown.
Release of commercial goods both at Chattogram port and Chattogram customs has increased while neglect towards health and safety protocols is rife owing to the prolonged pandemic situation, participants told the webinar jointly hosted by the Business Initiative Leading Development (Build), Bangladesh Investment Climate Fund-2 of International Finance Corporation (IFC), World Bank Group, and Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO).
Build CEO Ferdaus Ara Begum in the welcome speech said the second wave of the pandemic could hamper businesses if the virus safety measures are neglected. Therefore, Special stress should be laid on virus safety measures.
Chattogram Customs House Commissioner Mohammad Fakhrul Alam said they have been emphasising virus safety measures since the Covid-19 outbreak in Bangladesh. Various initiatives have been taken up to keep the country's economy afloat through import-export activities.
He said the customs has hung "No mask, no work" banners and their quick response teams are monitoring if health safety measures are flouted.
About the lax approach to health safety, he claimed people are flouting the safety rules not only in the customs, but also everywhere.
Fakhrul Alam further said people do not want to follow the safety guidelines, but he was trying his best.
"About 7,000 documents have to be processed every day. Even if one person handles two documents, at least 3,500 people visit the customs every day," the customs commissioner added.
In the meantime, Chattogram Port Authority (CPA) Member Zafar Alam said imports and exports through the port are increasing counteracting the virus fallout. Still there are health concerns over loading and unloading of commercial goods as the virus continues its round-ups.
"We warn the staffers and others at the port if they show neglect to health safety measures," added the CPA member.
Praising Chattogram Customs House for providing round-the-clock service during the pandemic, Chattogram Chamber of Commerce & Industry President Mahbubul Alam said many people think that customs is just a place to collect revenue, but customs helps move business forward and simplify it.
Babu Michchu Saha, third vice-president of the Chattogram Customs Clearing and Forwarding Agents Association, said the daily rush of people in the long room at the customs house is intensifying infection risk as many are not wearing face mask, or maintaining social distancing.
Amirul Islam, on behalf of the Bangladesh Freight Forwarders Association, said infection risk in the second wave of the pandemic would be high if the preparations taken up are left in the cold. He emphasised the importance of Customs House automation.
Ruhul Sikder, secretary to Bangladesh Inland Container Depot Association, said major losses could be averted as Bangladesh was better prepared at the outset of the outbreak.
Policy support, customs automation sought
The participants at the webinar also sought policy support, government assistances in trade and automation of the customs to speed up economic recovery averting infection risk.
Mohammad Abul Hasnat, public health specialist of the World Bank Group, presented the keynote paper at the programme while International Finance Corporation's Private Sector Specialist Nusrat Nahid Babi shed light on trade slump owing to the pandemic.
Nusrat Nahid Babi stressed the need for formulation of a national tariff policy to aid economic recovery considering LDC graduation, employment generation and virus recovery.
She also suggested introducing bonded warehouse facilities for non-readymade garments for product diversification and resolving tariff disputes on priority basis.
Underscoring the importance of customs automation and cashless payments, Bangladesh Shipping Agents Association Director Khairul Alam Sujan said an entire automation is needed for import and export of commercial goods.
He said, "We are yet to introduce electronic payment at the customs. If cashless payment had been introduced, it would have been possible to avoid the infection risk."