India has sought permission to start using the two Bangladesh seaports at Chittagong and Mongla for regular transit of cargoes destined for its north-eastern states, officials say.
The neighbouring country is seeking the facility almost six months after holding a trial-run of its cargo using the Chittagong port. Four containers carrying iron and pulse were transported to Tripura and Assam through the Akhaura-Agartala land port in the trial run.
The trial run was done on July 16 last year under the bilateral deal namely-- agreement on the use of Chattogram and Mongla port for the movement of goods to and from India. The agreement was signed back in October 2018.
"The Indian authorities concerned have requested the regular operationalisation of this agreement. (Issuing) permanent order by the National Board of Revenue, Bangladesh for regular movement of India (n) transit cargo," a letter of the Indian High Commission in Dhaka said.
The letter, sent last week to the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Shipping and the National Board of Revenue (NBR) in Dhaka, it also sought considering electronic filing of the import general manifest (IGM) instead of the manual IGM available at present for the transit cargo.
Contacted, shipping secretary Mohammed Mezbah Uddin Chowdhury said during the trial ruin there were some observations from the NBR and now they will inform the ministry whether they are prepared for the regular transit.
"The (Indian) letter has also been sent to the NBR and we are waiting for their response," he said when asked if the ministry has sought the opinion of the revenue board.
Mr Chowdhury said Bangladesh has yet to introduce the electronic lock system, which remains as a concern for ensuring that all goods reached the Indian border after containers leave Chittagong and Mongla ports.
There were some other unresolved issues, which the NBR was supposed to address, he told the FE on Tuesday last.
NBR member Khondaker Muhammad Aminur Rahman told the FE on Friday that a statutory regulatory order needs to be issued before allowing the regular transit, which has been delayed due to the pending enactment of a new customs law. The law is now awaiting final approval by parliament.
He said after the trial run, a standard operating procedure (SOP) on transit was supposed to be prepared, but that could not be done yet.
But, Mr Rahman said, though the SOP is not ready, some inputs regarding the transit cargo can be inserted into Automated System for Customs Data (ASYCUDA) while other information can be processed manually.
"We could not implement the e-lock system, though an order has already been issued," he said, adding the security of the transit cargo can be ensured by means of escorting.
"We are ready for starting regular transit, but some services have to be rendered manually," said Mr Rahman.
President of Chittagong Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCCI) Mahbubul Alam told the FE on Friday it is not confirmed how much goods India will carry through the port in a month or year.
"After the Bay Terminal is built, the capacity of the port will be increased significantly. So, the government can consider providing regular transit facility to India," he said.
Research director of the Centre for Policy Dialogue Dr Khondaker Golam Moazzem had earlier told the FE necessary technical preparations for carrying transit cargo have yet to be completed.
"Besides, there are differences among the various stakeholders on launching e-lock system in the country, which will take time to be resolved," he said.
Mr Moazzem said the experience of the trial run shows there is huge involvement of Bangladeshi manpower in transporting of Indian transit cargo.
"With Bangladesh having a limited number of customs and police personnel, starting a regular transit system will be costly for us," he added.
India is eager for regular transit as its vehicles need to travel over 1,650 kilometres to transport goods from Kolkata to Agartala through Guwahati in the landlocked north.
As per the agreement Indian traders have to pay Tk 30 as document processing fee (per chalan), transshipment fee Tk 20 (per tonne), Tk 100 per tonne as security charge (per tonne), escort charge Tk 50 (per tonne), miscellaneous administrative charge Tk 100 (per tonne), container scanning fee Tk 254 (per container), and electric lock and seal fee (as per rules).
There is widespread criticism of the poor transit charges from economists and stakeholders as Indian container carrying vehicles will use Bangladeshi roads and huge manpower have to remain engaged in administering transit related procedures.