Businesses that trade with India yesterday demanded more warehouses at the Benapole land port by private sector players like in the Chittagong port for proper storage of imported and export consignments.
“It's absolutely a necessity,” said Motiar Rahman, a clearing and forwarding agent, adding that 19 private warehouses were built around the Chittagong port in the last ten years for safer storage of imported and export goods.
The existing 60,000 square feet government-owned warehouse is simply not adequate for the expanded trading relationship between the two neighbouring countries, businesses said at a seminar styled “addressing land port issues for better Indo-Bangla trade”.
The seminar was organised by the India-Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce and Industry (IBCCI) and the High Commission of India in Bangladesh at the capital's Pan Pacific Sonargaon hotel.
Due to congestion on either side of the border, importers and exporters have to wait for as many as 25 days and in that time goods deteriorate in quality or go missing in the absence of adequate storage facilities.
For instance, in the past 15 days, more than 4,000 trucks have been unable to enter Bangladesh from Indian Bangaon-Chakdaha side due to lack of space in Benapole, said Rahman, who is also the chairman of the import-export sub-committee of the IBCCI.
Abdul Matlub Ahmad, the IBCCI president, echoed the same. “It is very difficult for businessmen to wait for up to 25 days for unloading goods.”
“Unless we have enough warehouses, we cannot do business. The private sector is ready to help to build the warehouses at the port and we are ready to help the government.”
Ahmad, who is also the immediate past president of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry, recommended making all 22 land ports along the India-Bangladesh bordering areas fully operational to further bilateral trade.
Currently, Bangladesh has 23 land ports, 22 of which are located along the Indian border. Only the Teknaf land port is with Myanmar.
Last fiscal year, Bangladesh imported goods worth $6.5 billion from India -- 90 percent of which were brought in through the land ports.
Goods worth $650 million were shipped to India in 2016-17, according to data from the Export Promotion Bureau.
If better land port facilities can be created, Bangladesh can easily grab a good portion of the $30 billion Indian apparel market, Ahmad said.
He also called for an office of the Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution at the Benapole land port for quick release of certification.
In 2016-17, the Petrapole-Benapole land port alone accounted for 37 percent of the total trade between the two countries, said Adarsh Swaika, deputy high commissioner of India in Bangladesh.
Recognising the importance of the land port, the Indian government will convert Petrapole and Agartala into integrated check posts to facilitate the movement of cargo.
The idea behind the construction of integrated check posts is to bring different agencies and services such as customs, immigration and border security under one integrated complex and facilitate seamless movement of goods and people.
Swaika, currently the acting Indian High Commissioner, said seven more land customs stations on the India-Bangladesh border will be upgraded to integrated check posts.
For instance, work on upgrading the Dawki land customs station on the Meghalaya-Bangladesh border is already underway, he added.
In 2016-17, a total of 155.19 lakh tonnes of goods were imported and exported through the land ports, according to Shipping Minister Shajahan Khan. In 2008-09, it was 34.26 lakh tonnes.
Bangladesh earned Tk 111.47 crore from the land port last fiscal year in contrast to Tk 26.74 crore in 2008-09, he added.
“Twelve more land ports are on way now,” said Tapan Kumar Chakravorty, chairman of the Bangladesh Land Port Authority, which manages six of the land ports.
The trade imbalance with India is a reality for Bangladesh as the country imports a lot of basic goods from its largest neighbouring country, said Tariq Karim, a former Bangladesh ambassador to India.
He suggested speeding up the e-commerce facility at the land port to boost bilateral trade.
Non-tariff, procedural and regulatory barriers are standing in the way of higher bilateral trade between the two countries, said Bipul Chatterjee, executive director of CUTS International, an Indian research body.