Truckers left idle as EPZ shipments put on hold | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, March 26, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:32 AM, March 26, 2020

Truckers left idle as EPZ shipments put on hold

Over the past few years, Md Khasru Miah, a truck driver of the Baba Solaiman transport agency in Ishwardi, typically made at least five trips per month to deliver materials used for manufacturing export-oriented products in Ishwardi export processing zone.

However, with the coronavirus pandemic taking its toll on businesses across Bangladesh, the 50-year-old has endured a massive downturn in fortune as of late.

"During times of natural disasters or even political crises such as floods or shutdowns, we often carry export materials safely. However, the recent coronavirus outbreak has cut down my work. As of March 20, I have received only one order to carry export goods this month," Kashru said.

Speaking to The Daily Star, Md Hira Pramanik, a lorry operator of Nasir Transport Group, echoed the same.

"I was fortunate to have been ordered to carry a bundle of thread from Chattogram port to a Japanese export-oriented garment factory in Ishwardi EPZ. This is the single trip for me this month," he said.

Following the global outbreak of coronavirus, shipments for all kinds of products have been put on hold for the last few weeks, he added.

Most transport workers of Ishwardi EPZ are enduring similar experiences due to the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving them with little to do other than sleep away the time.

"At least 40 to 50 goods-laden trucks were dispatched from Ishwardi EPZ daily before, but now no more than 5 to 10 trucks are sent out. Many drivers, helpers and loading-unloading labourers are waiting for work," said Md Sumon Hossain, another truck driver of the Baba Solaiman transport agency.

However, production is going on in Ishwardi EPZ despite the small amount of shipments being made.

"Most factories are operating according to work orders. Safety measures are in place for factory workers so there is nothing to be worried about," said Md Abdul Alim, general manager of the EPZ.

Seeking anonymity, an official of Nakano International, a Japanese garment producer in the EPZ, said that the company does not have a sufficient supply of raw materials due to the lack of shipments and so, is unable to hand over products to their respective buyers on time.

"Our factory is still running but we are not sure how we will continue production if the situation continues," he said.

Foreign investment in Ishwardi EPZ has rapidly increased over the past two decades due to the availability of smooth transport facilities. Besides, workers are readily available in the area.

Ishwardi EPZ started its journey with $5 million in foreign investment during fiscal 2004-05, Alim said, adding that the investment in the EPZ now amounts to $144.95 million (as of fiscal 2018-19), most of which is foreign funds.

If the situation deteriorates further, the Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority (BEPZA) will take a decision about closing operations of the EPZ, which employs over 12,000 workers, according to its website.

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