The pains that businesses undergo at the country's ports, particularly at seaports, are proverbial. They do suffer at every stage there and count extra costs because of the delays in taking delivery of import cargoes and sending export items to their destinations. The two major consequences of the delays -- hike in the cost of doing business and erosion in their competitiveness in the global market -- are starkly evident. On both 'Doing Business' and ''Global Competitiveness' yardsticks, Bangladesh's performance has been below par.
One of the key hurdles that the businesses engaged in external trade face is the unusual delay in customs clearance at both sea and land ports. Since the Chittagong port handles bulk of export and import cargoes the problem, naturally, is acuter there. Now, it takes as high as eight days, on an average, to clear an import consignment by the customs. The time taken in the case of export cargo is a bit less, five days. The time that customs usually takes in Bangladesh to clear consignment is too long by global standards. Some amount of human negligence could be there, but one does also need to look at the situation on the ground. Things are not comfortable either for the businesses or the customs authority. The customs is needed to procure relevant information from a large number of agencies against both export and import consignments. Similarly, businesses are required to submit a plethora of documents at different points to get their goods released or shipped.
Hopefully, much of the troubles faced by the customs as well as businesses would be over when an ongoing project styled National Single Window (NSW) of the National Board of Revenue (NBR) comes into being. The NSW is a virtual single window where businesses would submit the required information and documents without dealing with humans. Once in place the Window might ensure speed, transparency and help stop duty evasion and bribe-taking. Some 39 agencies, both private and public, would be connected with a portal to deliver speedy services to exporters and importers.
The NBR expects big out of the NSW project. It intends to cut import clearing time to two days from the existing eight days and export clearing to a single day from five days when the project ends in 2022. The expectation concerning the lead time in customs clearance might appear big. Yet achievements near to the targets would, surely, help enhance trade operations eliminating the traditional time-consuming paperwork. Under NSW, everything is scheduled to be automated.
It needs to be noted here that improvement at the customs level in import and export clearing should be supplemented by cut in lead time of ports, particularly of Chittagong port that handles 92 per cent of the country's export-import cargoes. The premier port has been doing well lately as its performance, in terms of number of container handling, has improved notably. In the Lloyds list of 'top 100 ports' in 2018, it had secured 64th position, improving its ranking by six steps from that of the previous year. Cut in lead time in both customs clearance and cargo handling by ports would help reduce costs at the businesses' end and improve their competitiveness in the global market.