The customs authority has relaxed its rules in regards to the submission of Certificates of Origin (CoO), a declaration of the place of manufacture for any product, for goods imported under the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) trade pact in the SAARC bloc.
The authority said it would accept electronic copies of CoOs for products imported under the SAFTA deal in absence of paper-based CoOs, it said in a notice issued on 29 July.
The benefit will remain effective until 31 December, said the National Board of Revenue (NBR) in the notice. This announcement comes at a time when normalcy has not yet returned to international trade due to the coronavirus's ongoing rampage across the globe.
Officials said that the customs authority started accepting electronically issued CoOs from May in a bid to enable importers to avail the duty-benefits on certain goods under the SAFTA. The privilege for temporarily accepted CoOs was given for the period until 30 June this year.
"We thought the pandemic would subside by this time," said an official of the NBR.
Since the coronavirus pandemic continues to infect an increasing number of people and subsequently disrupt normal life, the commerce ministry recently requested the revenue administration to extend its deadline for accepting CoOs online for assessment on duties for products imported under the SAFTA, an agreement on tariff benefits for importers and exporters in the eight SAARC member states.
In its latest notice, the NBR asked customs stations to examine the electronic copies of CoO applications from the websites of their respective countries and match the signature for duty assessment under SAFTA.
The NBR official said that the decision to accept e-CoOs was taken at a meeting of trade officials in April in a bid the support trade.
The SAFTA agreement has a common Rules of Origin (RoO) to determine the eligibility of any country for tariff benefits.
The deal on SAFTA, which has a common RoO to determining the eligibility of tariff benefits, came into force in January 2006, with the view to increasing intra-regional trade in South Asia.
However, intra-regional trade still accounts for little more than 5 per cent of South Asia's total trade, according to a World Bank report titled, 'A Glass Half Full: The Promise of Regional Trade in South Asia'.
The report estimates that that trade within the region could be worth $67 billion rather than its current value of $23 billion.
In fiscal 2018-19, Bangladesh imported 16 per cent of its $52.40 billion of imports from SAARC countries, particularly from India.
Its exports to the SAARC region was 3.6 per cent of the total of $29.30 billion that year, according to Bangladesh Bank data.
The central bank's figures excluded imports and exports by Export Processing Zones.