Trade between Bangladesh and India at Bibir Bazar land port took a major and startling turn in the outgoing fiscal 2020-21, with imports from the neighbouring country increasing a whopping 1,143% while exports to India fell 15%.
The import duty revenue from the land port increased 25% for Bangladesh, compared to the same time frame in the previous fiscal year. However, officials say the port is not being used to its fullest potential and capacity, resulting in a lower than expected income for the government.
According to port officials, Bangladesh exported 1,21,339 tonnes of goods to India through the Bibir Bazar port in 11 months of FY21, from July 2020 to May 2021, with a market value of over Tk85.93 crore.
Exports to the neighbouring country through the land port, from July 2019 to May 2020, amounted to 1.22 lakh tonnes with a market value of over Tk98.33 crore.
On the other hand, India exported 1,443 tonnes of goods to Bangladesh with a market value of Tk6.662 crore, from July 2020 to May 2021, using the land port.
In the same period of FY20, India exported only 292 tonnes of goods to Bangladesh with a market value of only Tk33.7 lakh.
"Imports to Bangladesh have increased due to some relaxation in India's export policy. There is a huge demand for Tripura-made products in Bangladesh as well," said Ahmed Salauddin, a tax revenue officer at the Bibir Bazar Land Customs Station.
He said the Covid-19 pandemic and India's dissatisfaction with the pricing of some major Bangladeshi export goods account for the widening trade deficit and imbalance.
"Cement is the most exported product through this port. India's dissatisfaction with Bangladesh's cement prices and the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic led to a fall in exports last year.
Recently this problem has been solved. Hopefully, both imports and exports will increase in the near future," he added.
Import revenue collection from the port has also increased following the surge in goods imported.
Officials said a total of Tk3.78 crore in import duties were collected at the port in FY21. The amount was Tk15 lakh for the same period in FY20.
However, officials are saying this increase in income is lower than expected, given the port's convenient geographic location, and its capacity to handle trade. Furthermore, a static list of products imported, and their low cost, are also cutting into tax revenues at the port.
"We expect to earn much more from this port. This is below our expectation. The Customs, Excise and VAT Commissionerate collects around Tk300 crore in tax revenue per month," said Salauddin Ripon, assistant commissioner, Cumilla Customs, Excise and VAT Commissionerate.
Located only 6km from Cumilla city, the Bibir Bazar land port currently has approval to allow passage to the importing of 42 products from India into Bangladesh. On the export end, the Bangladesh government has approved the export of 24 products to India through the port.
However, since the port became operational, only eight Indian products have entered Bangladesh at the land port. India did not export the remaining 34 products and imported 16 Bangladeshi products at the port.
The eight products exported to Bangladesh from India through Bibi Bazar port are cement, betel leaf, bael, tamarind, cumin, ginger, agarbatti, chocolate, and brooms. The Bangladeshi products imported by India are cement, coal, stone, soap, plastic doors, kitchen racks, PVC pipes, garment materials, tiles, cement sheets, rope, brick breaking machines, biscuits, soft drinks, etc.
Apart from these, India has so far imported 665.32 metric tons of Beximco LP gas, and 743.11 metric tons of Omera LP gas from Bangladesh through this port. These latter fuel energy products have a market value of about $110 million.