Import at the Chattogram port has decreased by 17 percent in a month in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, with readymade garment raw material recording the highest fall, according to data of the Customs House, Chattogram.
In January this year, over 1.06 crore tonnes of products were imported through the port. The number decreased to 88.18 lakh tonnes in February.
Export also shrunk within this period at the Chattogram port.
Officials feared exports and imports would slide further this month if the coronavirus situation did not improve.
They said this would drastically affect the market of all import-based products, including apparels.
The World Health Organization has already declared the coronavirus a pandemic. As of Friday, there were 1.3 lakh confirmed cases around the world and 4,960 deaths. The deadly virus has spread to 116 countries.
In Bangladesh, coronavirus has infected three people, including two men and a woman.
Mahbubul Alam, president of the Chattogram Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said imports had fallen not only from China but also other countries that had seen the coronavirus outbreak.
"Imports from and exports to European countries have declined too. We expected the situation to have improved by January or February, but it is deteriorating," he explained.
He said import-based product prices would go up further and industries would be affected if normalcy did not return.
The Chattogram port is the country's major seaport and the gateway for 92 percent of import and export trades. More than 6,000 products are imported and exported via this port.
Most of the products imported under bond facilities are raw materials for the clothing industry.
AM Chowdhury Selim, vice-president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, said import of apparel raw material had fallen sharply in the last two months.
Many factories are on the verge of closure due to the shortage of raw material, he said.
Md Shahadat Hossain is the manager of Taj Scientific, a leading medical equipment importer. He said import of a variety of equipment and products, including wheelchairs, nebulisers and surgical masks, from China was closed.
"We could not open letters of credit as shipment is totally suspended. The Chinese exporters are not taking any orders," added Shahadat.
Abul Bashar Chowdhury, chairman of BSM Group, said import of garlic and ginger was closed due to the coronavirus outbreak.
We usually import these from China ahead of Ramadan, he said.
"Also, we are unable to open letters of credit for importing electrical equipment. This has caused imports to decline," added Bashar.
Md M Mohiuddin Chowdhury, director of Clifton Group, said coronavirus broke out in China during the country's annual holiday.
"This is why import of clothing raw material from there remains suspended for so long. This has affected business as delivering products to buyers has become uncertain," he explained.
The situation is set to get worse, said Mohiuddin, also the chief executive officer of Clifton Group.
Md Abdul Qaiyum Shikder is in the clearing and forwarding business, and managing director of Fair Venture Limited. He said his business had decreased by 60 percent.
"Like me, many others in this business are feeling the pinch. Things will get worse in the coming days," Qaiyum added.