The National Board of Revenue (NBR) has decided to expand the customs assessment work at ports covering all imports barring the commercial ones during the ongoing shutdown that is now in place to check COVID-19 outbreak.
The customs wing issued a directive to this effect Tuesday.
Under the order, all types of products including capital machinery, agricultural machinery and products, poultry and dairy feed would be assessed by the customs house for release.
The order was issued following a request made by the Ministry of Shipping to resume full-fledged customs assessment in Chittagong seaport to help ease possible congestion.
The ministry requested the tax authority to speed up customs assessment in view of possible increase in demand for essentials ahead of Ramadan, the ministry urged the chairman of the National Board of Revenue, or NBR, to address the issue.
The Chittagong customs house (CCH) is the largest clearance point of the country's export and import goods.
According to the NBR, customs houses are operating on a 'limited scale' and releasing specific products after assessment during the shutdown which is due to end on April 14 next.
In a letter dated April 6, joint secretary of the ministry of shipping Abdus Sattar requested the NBR to expedite the release of imported goods in Chittagong port.
Some 1,840,672 tonnes of products were released from Chittagong port from March, 27 to April 4, 2020.
During the same period, more than 24,000 TEUs (20-equivalent units) of export containers were stored inside the port, while 23,169 TEUs export containers were released from the port.
Some 45, 370 containers have been waiting for customs assessment in the port since April, 5, 2020.
"Currently, CCH is conducting assessment of some specific categories of import products on a limited-scale," the letter said, adding the number of containers awaiting assessment at the port is increasing day by day, creating congestion.
If this situation continues, the release of essential products may also be affected, the ministry expressed the fear.
Import of products will go up significantly as the Muslims' month of fasting is going to start later in the month, according to the letter.
The ministry laid emphasis on ensuring the presence of customs officials during the pre-lockdown period.
Talking to the FE, commissioner of the Customs House Fakhrul Alam said almost one-fourth of the existing manpower are working in the house in several shifts.
He said the House is conducting customs assessment but many of the importers are unable to transport their goods due to the shortage of labours and transports.
Some 16 off-docs private container freight stations that operate like inland container depots in the Chittagong port can release 37 low-duty import items, he said.
However, due to the limited capacity of the port authority as well as the shortage of equipment, the off-docs are unable to help out to reduce port congestion, he said.
On March 30, the NBR issued an order in the country's customs houses to release import-export goods on a "limited scale" during the general holidays.
The instruction has been issued to keep uninterrupted flow of import of essential products, emergency medical services, and other service products as well as smooth operations of export zones.
Industrial raw materials and products and services imported by government, non-government and autonomous bodies will also be released after the assessment during the holidays, though the assessments will be limited.
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