The National Board of Revenue (NBR) is planning to make it mandatory for importers to submit the bill of entry to customs within 72 hours of shipment arriving at port, in a bid to further improve the business environment in Bangladesh.
At a programme on Sunday, Dr Khandaker Aminur Rahman, revenue board member (customs modernisation), said, "The NBR will soon implement the policy under an action plan to improve Bangladesh's ranking in the ease of doing business index."
He was addressing a workshop titled "Ease of Doing Business Trading Across Borders: Recent Reform Initiatives in Bangladesh," organised by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) in Dhaka.
A bill of entry is a legal document that is filed by importers or customs clearance agents on or before the arrival of imported goods. It is submitted to the customs department as part of the customs clearance procedure.
Addressing the event, Aminur Rahman said, "The National Single Window will be launched by 2022, and it will make doing business in Bangladesh much easier. The country is lagging behind in the index because of the long delay in goods clearance at ports.
"Some importers leave their goods at the ports, because of the comparatively high storage charges outside the ports. This practice harms other importers, prevents ships from docking and delays the clearance of goods. We must end this practice."
He further said, "Under existing rules, importers get around one week to submit bills of entry. However, the deadline will soon be tightened. India already uses the 72-hour deadline."
Some businessmen who were present at the programme complained about the ports' performance regarding taxation at customs, infrastructure, international shipping, goods tracking system, goods clearance time and other facilities at different levels.
Abul Kasem Khan, former president of the Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry said, "Foreign investors choose a country after considering the probability of getting a good return.
"However, they suffer complications at every related department, such as the income tax, customs and company registration in Bangladesh."
Adding that the future of Bangladesh's industrial sector is a matter of concern, Abul Kasem Khan said, "We are still competitive because of our relatively cheap labour force. However, we are facing the possibility of losing this competitiveness due to technological innovation and the ongoing shift of the readymade garment industry to African countries.
"We must survive the competition by improving the business environment, similar to other countries."
Meanwhile, the Commerce ministry's Additional Secretary Sharifa Khan said that Bangladesh is lagging behind in the ease of doing business ranking, due to a lack of coordination among related government bodies.
She added that "The Bangladesh Investment Development Authority shows visiting foreign investors many possibilities in our business-friendly environment.
"But then they visit the NBR, and witness the burden of corporate tax, advance tax, VAT and customs duty. These investors also hear about the experience of others in making many trips to government bodies for various business-related issues. It impacts them negatively."
Sharifa Khan added that there are a low number of foreign investors because of the lack of coordination among government bodies, and Bangladesh's poor ranking in the World Bank's ease of doing business index.
"The NBR must let go of the thought of revenue to bring in more foreign investments," she said.
The IFC is a member of the World Bank Group. The World Bank is supporting the NBR to implement the National Single Window project, which has a budget of $74.1 million or Tk625 crore.
A total of 39 ministries and government agencies will work together under the project, which began in 2018. There is also an initiative to involve the business community in this initiative.
Bangladesh ranked 168th among 190 countries in latest ease of doing business index.
The index ranks economies from 1 to 190, with the top ranked country being the best. A higher rank, indicated by a lower numerical value, means that the regulatory environment in that country is favourable for businesses.
Md Moazzem Hossain, commissioner of the Dhaka Customs House, presented the welcome speech at the workshop, and the private sector specialist of the IFC, Nusrat Nahid Babi, made the introductory remarks.