Bangladesh garment industry is the lifeline of its economy. Contributing more than 80 per cent of the export earnings while also providing large-scale employment, there’s no denying the role and significance of the industry in the overall growth and development of Bangladesh.
So, given the epidemic situation prevailing in the country, the significance of the industry assumes even more importance. With respect to the same, after the initial hiccups since the dreaded COVID-19 first made its presence felt and rather strongly last year, which led the Government to impose several lockdowns, the garment industry has been operating following all health and safety protocols and rather successfully so, to keep the economy alive and kicking.
Keeping the same in consideration, if the garment workers and entrepreneurs deserve all the kudos for keeping the industry running, there are also players in the background like the country’s customs houses, sea and land ports, who from behind the scene have been playing an equally strong supporting role — the concerned personnel of all these departments, without thinking about their own safety and security, have been working round the clock to ensure constant flow of raw materials to the industry while also making sure the all-important export consignments are processed and shipped to the buyers, across the geographical locations, on time — if not more, thanks to which the industry has made good progress despite the pandemic, and this is reflected well in its export performance.
Bangladesh’s export earnings made a strong rebound in the just-concluded fiscal year, fetching US $ 38.75 billion even as according to the latest Export Promotion Bureau (EPB) data, compared to export earnings of US $ 33.67 billion in FY ’20, export earnings in FY ’21 has been US $ 38.76 billion, growing by 15.10 per cent with apparel shipments growing by 12.55 per cent to US $ 31.45 billion from what was US $ 27.95 billion in FY ’20.
Even recently, when the country again went into a strict lockdown, these departments have been operating with great spirit and efficiency to keep the industry running. To put things in perspective, there are more than 30 customs stations across Bangladesh, in addition to the customs houses of the sea and airports. However, despite all the restrictions, the authorities decided to keep all the customs houses and customs stations open during the lockdown, in an effort to facilitate uninterrupted export-import activities through land, air and sea ports.
As per the Director (Information) of the National Board of Revenue (NBR) Syed A Mumen, the activities of the revenue board had been brought under emergency services as well thereby making sure all customs houses and customs stations remained open during the lockdown even as all necessary manpower have also been deployed at the field level customs offices to facilitate smooth activities.
The efforts put in by these departments are again reflected in terms of their performance, despite the COVID-19 fallouts.
For example, the Benapole Customs House, which is entrusted with the operations of the country’s largest Benapole Land Port, fetched over Taka. 41.48 billion as revenue collection in the last fiscal year (FY ’21) despite the pandemic, which is around 58 per cent higher than the previous fiscal year (FY ’20) — the revenue collection from the Benapole Customs House in FY ’20 was over Taka. 26.35 billion — even as Benapole Customs House Commissioner Md. Azizur Rahman told the news agencies that they kept their offices open despite the pandemic while providing round the clock services.
Meanwhile, the country’s premier sea port – Chittagong Port, which handles the bulk of imports and exports, despite all the challenges, lived up to its reputation as it clocked 3.1 per cent year-on-year growth in container handling in the just-concluded fiscal year, which while highlighting the growing foreign trade of Bangladesh underlined the role of the port in facilitating the same.
It’s a different story though that shipping crisis of late, have affected the performance of the Chittagong Port as well as lack of containers and so-called congestions at transhipment ports have impacted both imports and exports.
Meanwhile, according to data from the Chittagong Port Authority (CPA), Chittagong Port handled around 30,97,236 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) of containers in the fiscal year 2020-21, up from 30,04,142 TEUs a year ago even as the cargo handling by the port was up 11.98 per cent year-on-year (the port handled 11.37 crore tonnes of cargo in FY ’21 against 10.16 crore tonnes the previous year) while the vessel movement through the port also rose: 4,062 vessels plied to and from the port in FY ’21, up from 3,764 in the preceding year.
“The port was not shut for a single day even during the pandemic. The round-the-clock operation has helped us handle more than three million TEUs in the year,” maintained CPA Chairman M Shahjahan even as he thanked the port staff and workers and other stakeholders such as berth operators, ship-handling operators, shipping agents, clearing and forwarding agents, freight forwarders, and customs officials for working together.
Similarly, Mongla Port handled over 11.9 (1.19 crore) tonnes of goods during the 2020-21 fiscal (FY ’21), which also helped it to make a new record in terms of revenue earnings, which stood at Taka 3.4 billion even as the port handled around 43,959 TEU of containers at the port.
According to the Mongla Port Authority (MPA) data, 11,945,000 tonnes of goods were loaded and unloaded at the country’s second largest seaport during the FY ’21, up from 1 million (10 lakh) tonnes of goods than the fiscal 2019-20.
Mongla port is now earning record profit and it proves that Bangladesh’s economy is growing and its foreign trade is also increasing despite the Coronavirus pandemic, underlined the Chairman of the Mongla Port Authority even as he thanked joint efforts of all stakeholders including officers and employees, berth operators, terminal operators, ship handling operators, C&F (clearing and forwarding) agents, freight forwarders, shipping agents and workers, who have helped to keep the operations running round the clock and thereby also helping the industries as well as the economy to keep moving.
Given their contributions in such trying times, one could but only thank and appreciate them for the all-important support and service they rendered to the industries, especially the RMG sector, which is dependent on their performance entirely in facilitating hassle-free and uninterrupted supply of raw materials (in terms of imports) while also ensuring time-bound shipments to the clients (brands and retailers in terms of exports) across the globe.