Already hit by costlier road and river transports plus the spiked cargo handling charges, businessmen now strongly oppose the recent tariff hike move by the Chattogram Port Authority (CPA).
They said the country's import-export will face fresh trouble if the charges at the port are raised leading to production cost spirals and unusual price surges at retails.
The port authority currently charges 51 types of tariffs in 70 slabs. Though the move for the tariff hike was initiated in 2019, recent talks with the port stakeholders brought it in the spotlight.
The port handles 90% of the country's $100 billion external trade and it handles nearly 30 lakh containers a year. With an annual income of Tk3,000 crore, Chattogram port was ranked the 67th busiest port in the globe by Lloyd's port ranking in 2020.
Businessmen who use the port faced a 15% hike in lighter vessel charges, 23% in container handling at the private off-docks and around 30% in cargo transport by road alone in November.
Terming the CPA move "completely illogical", they said the port already lacks services and modern equipment and businesses are charged for many slabs without providing these facilities.
For instance, they said, the port charges $42 per eight hours for the jetty crane. One has to pay $20 even if the cargoes are not lifted by the crane. But the jetty crane of the port is out of order for a long time leaving no option for the traders but to pay for it without the service.
However, justifying the tariff hike move, the port in a recent letter to the stakeholders said, "The current tariffs were last reviewed in 1986. Though the port's spending for development, repair and maintenance rose manifold, there was no tariff review in the last 35 years – leading to concern over the port's financial affairs."
Following the port's 2019-tariff hike move, a nine-member review committee was formed. The committee will talk to 27 types of stakeholders and analyse the port tariff charts in neighbouring countries.
Golam Sarwar, deputy team leader of the committee, said they have already talked to seven stakeholders including Chattogram chamber, C&F association and freight forwarders' association. We will talk to the remaining stakeholders in December or next January.
Asked about the potential tariff hike rates, he said, "It is usual that we will be advocating for the hike. But the rates are not determined yet."
Contacted, Mahbubul Alam, president of Chattogram Chamber of Commerce & Industry, said, "Ports are meant for services, not for money-making."
He told The Business Standard that the chamber proposed the tariff review committee for port modernisation instead of only hiking the tariffs.
The Business Standard also talked to a number of stakeholders of the port who raised some questions about issues such as long wait for berthing compared to ports in neighbouring countries, prolonged loading and unloading times and some hidden costs alongside the tariffs.
"The port is already costly, while it lacks many of the modern facilities. Why would we pay more for the poor services," one of the stakeholders raised the question while talking to TBS on condition of anonymity.
Bangladesh Shipping Agents Association Chairman Syed Mohammad Arif said they informed the review committee about the issues and will submit those by a written letter soon.
Contacted, Omor Faruk, secretary at Chattogram Port Authority, did not make any comment on the tariff hike move.