Long delay in loading and unloading of goods at Chattogram port and the inland container depot (ICD) and, consequently, its high cost have still kept ease of doing business at the country's main port far from ideal, say importers and exporters.
The port authorities claim that both the time and cost have been brought to the accepted standard, but businesspeople disagree.
Zarifa Enterprise recently imported two containers of apples from South Africa. On 12 May, the ship reached the outer anchorage of Chattogram port, but it could not anchor at the jetty even in five days.
It will take three days for the ship to unload containers at the jetty and at least another three to 10 days to get customs clearance.
Thus, releasing goods after a ship enters Bangladesh takes 11-20 days.
Jonaidul Haque, owner of Zarifa Enterprise, said he would have made good profits if the containers could be unloaded before Eid. He now fears a loss of Tk10 lakh.
As per the ease of doing business index, to reduce time and cost, export products have to be loaded on ships from the port gate within 36 hours. Also, the cost of loading goods should be brought down to $200.
Rear Admiral Mohammad Shahjahan, chairman of the Chattogram Port Authority, said in the trading access border indicator of the ease of doing business index, the time needed to load export goods on ships at the port was brought down to 22 hours from 36 hours and the cost had been reduced below $200.
Exporters, however, say it is not possible to load export goods to ships from the inland container depot (ICD) within the stipulated time. The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) says the ICD is taking more time than the port to deliver containers to importers.
On 20 April this year, BGMEA President Faruque Hassan wrote a letter to the National Board of Revenue, mentioning that it takes two days to receive apparel containers from the Chattogram port but seven days from the ICD.
Ruhul Amin Sikder, secretary general of the ICD Owners Association, said it takes 65 hours on average to load goods on ships from the depot, costing $142.29 for a 20-foot container and $217.73 for a 40-foot container.
Traders are reluctant to accept the Chattogram port chairman's statement. They say the time and cost of export-import trade are increasing due to various complexities in importing goods through Chattogram port, including delays in berthing, complexities over duty collection, and other bureaucratic problems.
They say they are not able to unload goods or send products to destinations on time, which is causing product prices to increase in the market.
MDM Mohiuddin Chowdhury, director of Clipton Group and also a BGMEA director, said importers face harassment in the name of various tests after goods arrive at the port.
"Negative reports are issued by the customs lab even if products are fine while subsequent tests at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology labs have shown goods are OK. Stopping the activities of corrupt officials will reduce both time and cost of import-export trade," he said.
There are also delays in getting customs clearance after goods arrive at the port. According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the turnaround time (time needed to unload goods from ships at the jetty) at the port is three days.
Port records show a ship has to wait for two days and a half on average to reach the jetty from the outer anchorage. It takes five days and a half for a ship to be unloaded at the jetty after it arrives at the outer anchorage. Even after that, importers have to face various problems in getting the customs clearance for unloading goods.
Scrap cargo ships had to wait for 26 days to get the schedule to anchor at the jetty from the outer anchorage. This occurred in February this year. Bangladesh Steel Manufacturers Association then wrote to the port chairman, requesting him to allocate a separate jetty for scrap cargo ships.
Chattogram customs house Commissioner Fakhrul Alam said the custom house is still running as per the 2011 manpower structure and only 42% of the manpower outlined in the organogram has been employed.
He said the customs lab's capacity is less than what is required, and the specialised software of the customs department is also slow.
Moreover, due to procedural errors made by importers and their C&F agents, duty collection is delayed, he added.
According to the Shipping Agents Association, if a ship sits idle, $12,000-15,000, depending on the size, has to be paid in rent for a day. Importers have to spend a large amount of money, as much as Tk1,000 crore a year, due to berthing delays and this has a negative impact on product prices, Sanjay Kumar Ghosh, BSRM's head of supply chain management, told The Business Standard.
Kazi Mahmud Imam Bilu, first joint general secretary of Chattogram C&F Agents Association, said customs duty collection is delayed due to some procedural flaws.
"Physical examination should not be carried out for more than 10% of products, but 20% are tested. It takes seven to 15 days to get chemical test reports from the customs lab.
"Duty collection should be done in a day, but it takes more than three days. There is also a long wait to get reports from other organisations. Thus, importers have to face losses as containers remain stuck at the port."
Mahbubul Alam, president of Chattogram Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said some specific issues should be prioritised to improve Bangladesh's position on the ease of doing business index.
"At the beginning of business, traders need to have easy access to all the required things, including TIN certificates and trade licences. Unloading goods and customs clearance should be expedited," he said.
There should be coordination among organisations involved in import-export trade, he added.