The complications created over the apparel exporters' refusal to use the privately-operated Inland Container Depots (ICDs) warrant prompt addressing. It involves the interests of two important private sector business operators. The present situation has arisen after the Chittagong Port Authority (CPA)'s recent move to ease container congestion at the port through diverting the work of handling imported RMG consignments through the ICDs. The CPA has also submitted a proposal to the National Board of Revenue (NBR) to this effect. But complaining that the ICDs are charging higher fees as well as taking more time than the CPA to release their goods, the RMG sector's apex body Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) has sent a letter to the NBR requesting it to allow apparel exporters to use Ctg port to get their imported consignments cleared. However, leaders of the ICD operators, the Bangladesh Inland Container Depots Association (BICDA), have differed on these issues. Though they admitted that their fees are a bit high, they, however, denied having taken longer time to release the imported consignments. On the contrary, they actually perform the task faster than the Ctg port, they claimed.
In fact, both sides have some valid points in their arguments. There is no question that due to the pandemic, especially in Europe and North America, the business of export-oriented (RMG) sector is facing extraordinary challenges for understandable reasons. These export destinations of our apparel products are now under strict lockdowns to combat the second wave of the pandemic. Meanwhile, a new, more contagious variant of the Covid-19 virus has further compounded their problem. The situation has seriously affected business of RMG products both from the foreign buyers' and local exporters' ends. Small wonder that as mentioned by the BGMEA in its letter to the NBR, supply order worth US$3.18 billion of garment products has been cancelled or suspended by international buyers as a result. In that case, to remain competitive, they would naturally want to reduce the cost of doing business. So, it should not be surprising if the RMG exporters are somewhat sensitive about the higher container handling fees that they allege the private ICD operators are asking from them.
In a similar vein, during the economic shutdowns when export-import came to a near standstill, business of the ICD operators also equally suffered. And like the RMG owners, they have also expressed their concern about the risks they are facing to protect the huge investments they have made in the cargo handling business. At this point, it is important to consider the fact that the Ctg port is overburdened as it handles 98 per cent of the container in the country. The present container congestion at the Ctg port will not ease at least until the Patenga container terminal becomes operational next year. That is one reason why the CPA last month recommended clearing increasing volumes of imported cargoes through the off-docks, i.e. ICDs.
As suggested by the CPA, a way out of this stalemate may be holding of talks between the BGMEA and the ICD operators to settle their differences. In that case, someone in authority would be required to mediate such talks between the two sides. It is believed that through such mediated talks, both parties would be able to reach an early deal. The sooner it is done the better.