Supplies from Chattogram port and the country's largest wholesale commodity market Khatungonj have taken a big hit owing to the shortage of goods carrier vehicles.
Transport workers are declining to drive vehicles amid the coronavirus scare.
Following a nationwide lockdown from Thursday, the supply of goods from Chattogram port fell by more than 80 percent and over 90 percent from Khatungonj for the shortage of commercial transport vehicles.
The Chittagong Port Authority and Chattogram Custom House have kept their activities running to keep exports and imports unaffected amid the lockdown. But for a lack of goods carriers, businessmen are not getting benefits, said Fayzul Kibria, a Khatungonj-based importer.
"The shortage of trucks is also harming trade in Chattogram's Khatungonj."
Businessmen and experts have said that if the supply chain of the country's premier port and largest commodity market Khatugonj do not remain as usual, the supply of products, including essential commodities, will fall short.
Prices of products will surge unusually too as importers bring goods through the port and most retailers across the country buy goods from Khatungonj.
The government has imposed strict restrictions on the movement of public transport as part of a countrywide lockdown.
Although cargo vehicles are not on the list of restrictions, labourers are declining to work over fears of possible coronavirus infection. This has caused a crisis in the supply of goods from Chattogram port, where 92 percent of the country's exports and imports are concentrated.
When contacted, Md Abdul Mannan, President of Chattogram District Covered Van and Mini Truck Owners Group and Goods Transport Owners Federation, told The Business Standard, "Around 8,000-10,000 vehicles carrying goods – mainly trucks, covered vans, and lorries – would leave Chattogram port and Khatungonj for other parts of the country. The number fell to 500 to 400 in the last two days. The drivers and helpers are refusing to run the vehicles."
"Almost all the vehicles are lying idle. At the same time, long-distance drivers who need to take a break on the way are declining to work. This is because everything has been closed, including shops and roadside tea stalls. Those who agree to do the work want double their wages."
Port sources said 5,000 trucks, covered vans, and lorries enter the port for goods delivery and shipment every day. On Friday and Saturday, only 1,423 and 326 TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units) containers were delivered, which figure had been 3,873 on average the previous week.
Every day around 500 trucks leave Khatungonj with goods for other parts of the country. But the normally bustling market has thinned out owing to shortages of goods carrying vehicles.
"The usual daily transaction at the market is around Tk2,500 crore. But now it is fluctuating between Tk200 and Tk150 crore as we cannot deliver goods. Plus, at the beginning the government only allowed grocers to keep their shops open. Later they also allowed us to do the same but now we are facing a crisis of goods transportation. We hope the administration will work out a solution soon by sitting with transport owners," said Syed Chhogir Ahmed, general secretary of Khatungonj Trade and Industries Association.
Professor Dr Sekander Khan, vice-chancellor of East Delta University and an economist, said, "The government has to ensure an uninterrupted supply chain while maintaining the safety of drivers and helpers. Learning from the experiences of other affected countries, that have managed to de-bottleneck their supply chains, we have to act."
Meanwhile, businessmen have said that fares for trucks and covered vans have almost doubled as there are not enough commercial transport vehicles for carrying goods.
Md Mohoram Ali, a wholesale grocer of Chowmuhani in Noakhali, told The Business Standard, "The truck fare for carrying goods from Khatungonj to Chowmuhani was Tk5, 000 to Tk6, 000. It has now jumped to Tk12, 000. Even worse, trucks are not available. The skyrocketing carrying cost and shortage of supply are both negatively impacting commodity prices."
As on the Chattogram-Noakhali route, fares on all routes have soared unusually.
The truck fare from Chattogram to Dhaka, which was Tk12, 000 to Tk13, 000, has jumped to Tk28, 000.
For carrying goods from Chattogram to such northern areas of the country as Dinajpur, the truck fare was Tk18,000. But it is anywhere from Tk32, 000 to Tk36, 000 now.
The fare of a covered van from Chattogram to Dhaka, which was between Tk16, 000 and Tk18, 000, has now shot up to between Tk30,000 and Tk32,000, according to businessmen and the Goods Transport Owners Federation.