The time taken for getting imported goods released at major ports ---sea, air and land ---may not interest the general public but it is highly important for importers and the economy. Delays or longer times than the globally accepted standard means unusual hassles and increased costs involved in the process. To have an authentic picture of the release times and the points where procedural formalities are required to be completed, a study titled Time Release Study (TRS) 2022 was conducted by a team of customs officials of the National Board of Revenue (NBR). Funded by the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) of the Government of Switzerland under a World Customs Organisation (WCO)-SECO Global Trade Facilitation Programme (GTFP), the study has presented an average release time for imported goods at major ports of Bangladesh.
Now the average consignment clearance time at Chattogram seaport, the country's prime one, was found to be 11 days six hours and 23 minutes. It is seven days at Air Cargo Complexes (ACC) and 10 days for land ports. For customs clearance, paper work has to pass as many as 25 to 32 approving gates. Clearly, the cost and time are particularly yet to be of help in improving Bangladesh's ranking significantly in the World Bank's Ease of Doing Business Index. For comparison, customs clearance at Hong Kong seaport takes only 3-5 days but if the papers are up-to-date, the time can be even shorter. Ever since the introduction of a seamless automated facility with zero human intervention at some selected ports at the end of 2019, India has brought down the customs clearing process from 12 hours to just 12 minutes. The automated facility uses block chain, machine learning and artificial intelligence to perform the task so fast. Whereas the formalities of customs clearance at Chattogram seaport take eight days, nearly three days at airports, five days and four hours at land ports.
Clearly, the country has a long way to go before it adequately improves cargo and freight handling at its air, sea and land ports. One of the ways to improve a land port's capacity for early release of imported goods is to turn it into an integrated check post. Automation of the customs clearance process at a single point by bringing about the necessary coordination and cooperation can do away with the current hassles and undesirable delays in releasing both imported and export-bound goods and commodities.
The bottom line is to rise up to the challenges facing the country's trade and investment. Without improvement in the Ease of Doing Business Index of the WB, massive investment in particular will not be coming Bangladesh's way. The ports as entry and exit points present the face of the country and if things have to go through long bureaucratic processes, they do a disservice to the country's economic interests. Early release of capital machinery can make a lot of difference in the productive system of industry. Similarly, faster shipments of products from the country save both time and cost to the benefit of exporters and the economy in the final count.