Imported goods under the SAFTA rules could be released through furnishing online Certificate of Origin (CoO) until December 31 this year.
The National Board of Revenue (NBR) has extended the facility of submitting the digital certificates by six more months from June 30.
Usually, the importers have to submit the original CoOs to the customs house for temporary assessment and releasing the goods.
Officials said the customs wing under the NBR had earlier relaxed the South Asian Free Trade Area, or SAFTA, rules following the COVID-19 pandemic.
As per provisions of the SAFTA agreement among the eight member countries, traders of all of the countries have to submit the original hard copies of the CoOs manually at the time of customs assessment and clearing the imported goods at the customs points.
The SAFTA agreement was signed in 2004 and it came in to effect in 2006.
Following the COVID-19 pandemic, the NBR allowed the SAFTA countries to submit online CoOs until June 30, 2020 in the first phase.
The time frame has been extended through an order issued on Thursday by the Customs (International trade and agreement) Wing.
After expiry of the deadline, some 50 import containers got stuck in the Chattogram port as Chittagong Customs House (CCH) refrained from accepting the digital certificates without written order from the NBR, sources said.
The containers remained stuck for about one month, compelling the importers to count additional store rent, they said.
Talking to the FE, a senior customs official said the NBR allowed the traders to submit digital certificates following correspondence in the diplomatic channel from the Indian side.
"The SAFTA treaty has no option to submit CoOs digitally. We have temporarily arranged the alternative option to continue trading among the members due to this COVID-19 situation," he said.
After June 30, the CCH did not approve any digital CoOs and asked all importers to furnish its original hard copies. On the other side, the Indian counterparts have not been providing any hard copies as they are running office at a limited scale during this pandemic.
However, the official said, some other SAFTA member countries, apart from India, are providing manually the hard copies of the CoOs.
Following the complexities faced by the importers, the Ministry of Commerce also wrote to the NBR to issue an order extending the time for producing the digital CoOs.
In the order, the NBR instructed all the customs house commissioners to verify authenticity of the electronic copies of CoO from the website of the respective countries.
They have also been asked to verify the signature of the certificates with the previously preserved specimen signature in the customs house before customs assessment and releasing the goods under SAFTA rules.
Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan are the members of SAFTA.
Importers having SAFTA Rules of Origin Certificates enjoy a reduced customs duty under a Statutory Regulatory Order (SRO) of NBR.
Although the member countries were supposed to bring down the customs duties up to at least 5.0per cent by 2016, it has not been properly implemented due to reluctance of some member countries.
In 2015, Bangladesh reduced the customs duty that ranges between 0.675 per cent and 7.1875 per cent.