With the European Union (EU) slapping ban on direct cargo shipments, the blow that looked like imminent has finally been dealt with. It was Australia first to call the shot, then the UK, USA and Germany. It has been happening well over a year with signals potentially capable of seriously affecting the country’s exports. Who is now to blame? When the first ban came from Australia, it was no tiny blip, and all concerned should have taken it seriously in anticipation that others might follow suit. And although others were not too late to join, the authorities here still did not seem to realise the implications.
By now, it is common knowledge that the European Commission (EC), the official secretariat of the members of the EU, has put Bangladesh on the list of high-risk countries in operating direct cargo services by air and sea to the EU countries. It has slammed a ban on such operations from June 01. The action of the EU is far sterner in that while the ban imposed by the other countries related to operation of cargo flights from Hazrat Shahjalal Airport only, that of the EU applies to operations both for sea and air shipments.
As a result of the decision, businesses are now required to go for re-screening of their goods at a third airport en route to an EU country. Alternatively, if Bangladesh is to have its name struck off from the ban list, the authorities here will need to ensure, among other things, screening of goods through bomb detection dogs or internationally acceptable technology before loading of goods. Before informing the EU about the steps taken, Bangladesh will have to get clearance certificate from the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) on successful setting up of the explosive detection system.
No wonder, the news has caused alarm among all the export sectors given that the EU is the largest export destination of the country with garments accounting overwhelmingly for total exports. Although the EU decision relates to direct cargo handling, the fact remains that re-screening of exported merchandise at a third port will add to the costs that would adversely impact the competitiveness of Bangladeshi products in terms of price and additional shipment time. It is worth mentioning here that Germany alone accounted for nearly $5.0 billion of exports.
Despite the predictable damage, there are quarters, including the Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh, who claim that the ban would not affect the country’s exports. Such comments are highly misleading at this point in time. While garment exporters are in agony over the extra costs and delay, exporters of perishable goods are in no mood to be comforted as the fear of losing their markets looms large, and cancellation of export orders looks like a matter of time only. This newspaper did flag the issue a number of times since the first ban came to be effective more than a year ago urging the authorities to do the needful, but there was no noticeable change to assuage the risk element that prompted the ban. Now, is it not high time to sit up?