The European Union has put Bangladesh on the list of high-risk countries in terms of operating cargo services by air and sea to the EU countries, said sources at the Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh.
EU Ambassador in Dhaka Pierre Mayaudon disclosed the decision at a meeting with CAAB Chairman Air Vice-Marshal Ehsanul Gani Chowdhury at the latter's office yesterday, meeting sources told The Daily Star.
Last year, Australia, the UK and Germany termed Bangladesh a high-risk country and imposed a ban on direct cargo flights citing poor security at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport.
Of the three countries, Germany is the second largest apparel export destination for Bangladesh with garment items worth $4.66 billion exported to the EU country in 2015-16, according to data from the Export Promotion Bureau.
“Bangladesh has been red listed by the EU, which means it has been labelled as a high-risk country for cargo operations,” said a top official of Shahjalal airport.
Following the latest EU decision, which came into effect from June 1, businesses now require re-screening of their goods at a third airport en route to an EU country, officials said.
To get its name dropped from the list, Bangladesh first has to ensure screening through bomb detection dogs or equipment before loading goods in aircraft, sources quoted the EU envoy as saying at the meeting.
Aviation sources say none of the two security measures have been adopted at Shahjalal airport.
Pierre Mayaudon also told the CAAB chief that the EU will send its aviation security team for inspection if Dhaka introduces necessary security equipment at the airport and informs them about it, according to the director of Shahjalal airport, who was present at the meeting.
Before informing the EU about the step taken, Bangladesh will have to get clearance certificate from the International Civil Aviation Organisation on successful setting up of explosive detection system.
Contacted, Civil Aviation and Tourism Minister Rashed Khan Menon yesterday said there is also another option using which Bangladesh will be able to operate cargo services to Europe.
“In that case, Bangladesh will have to pay a certain amount of fees to the export destinations for carrying out a second screening through explosive detection system.”
Menon said the EU came up with the decision all of a sudden without communicating with the Bangladesh authorities.
The minister also said the EU took the decision at a time when Bangladesh is upgrading Shahjalal airport in terms of security and goods screening.
The ministry will do whatever is needed to get the restriction lifted as soon as possible, he added.
A high official of CAAB told The Daily Star, “They [EU] have put us on the red list without talking to us. We have advanced a lot in terms of goods screening and other security issues at Shahjalal airport. It's unfortunate that the EU took the unilateral decision.”
Wishing anonymity, a minister said Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was informed about the EU move during yesterday's cabinet meeting.
Asked about this, Menon said the PM has advised him to consult the foreign ministry.
Apart from Bangladesh, 12 countries are on the high-risk list, sources said.
According to Menon, Bangladesh and Kuwait are the latest to be on the list.
Officials at the CAAB and the civil aviation ministry ruled out the possibility of any adverse impact of the EU restriction.
But SM Jahangir Hossain, president of Bangladesh Fruits Vegetables and Allied Products Exporters Association, said the news came as a major blow for them as export costs will increase significantly.
“Besides, there are risks involved in second screenings in third countries,” he added.
“We will suggest that the government should sit with the EU and fix the problem immediately.”
Siddiqur Rahman, president of Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters' Association (BGMEA), said he is still unaware of the European Union move.
“If it [restriction] happens, the consequences will be serious,” he said.
Abdus Salam Murshedy, managing director of Envoy Group and ex-president of BGMEA, said Bangladesh's competitiveness will be further eroded.
“Double checking of our cargo will push the cost and time up.”
As Bangladesh has no deep-sea port, its lead time for export to the EU and the US is 10 days and 15 days higher respectively than that of China and India, two main competitors, he added.
Rezaul Hasanat, chairman and CEO of Viyellatex Group, said double screening by a third party will raise the cost of exports.
“We have to bear the costs of scanning of our cargoes by the third party,” he said.
Bangladesh raked in $18.68 billion from its exports to the EU in 2015-16, which was 54.57 percent of the total receipts for the fiscal year.
Of the $18.68 billion, $17.15 billion came from apparel shipments. The EU currently accounts for over 60 percent of all Bangladesh's garment export receipts a year.