The National Board of Revenue has retained the mandatory use of electronic seal and lock, an e-tracking technology, on export-import containers for both way transportations between Chittagong Port and private inland container depots despite strong opposition from businesses.
The NBR on June 26 framed the new Electronic Seal and Lock Service Rules 2018 with immediate effect after the previous rules expired in January.
Trade bodies, including the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Chittagong Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, Port Users Forum and Chittagong Customs Clearing and Forwarding Agents Association, and all other major business organisations were demanding abolition of such rules.
They argued that the mandatory use of the technology would increase the cost of doing business in the country.
Introduction of such costly and time-consuming technology is irrational as exporters and importers are using various low-cost technologies to secure the containers while no incidences of theft and duty evasion occurred over the years on the way of container transportations, they said.
It will also push the exporters behind in competitive market due to increased cost and procedural complexities, they said.
The Chittagong Customs Clearing and Forwarding Agents Association on December 7 asked its members not to pay any fees for e-tracking technology following request from the Port Users Forum.
Amid these developments, the new rules have kept all the provisions of the previous rules, including schedule of tariffs, unchanged.
According to the rules, exporters and importers will have to pay Tk 600 per container or covered van or truck bound for Chittagong Port from private ICDs, known as off-docks, and to ICDs from the port for the first 48 hours and then Tk 50 for every additional hour for the service.
The NBR will prepare a list of service providers based on applications and the enlisted service providers will operate based on build-own-operate method, the rules said.
NBR officials said that the customs wing had presented a summery describing the detailed situation, including opposition of business community, to finance minister AMA Muhith for his decision before the announcement of the national budget for the current financial year 2018-2019.
Muhith gave the decision in favour of continuation with the technology, they said.
Since 2014, the NBR has been trying to introduce the technology in the country after US-based Alif Corporation, owned by a Bangladeshi diaspora, offered to provide the service.
The NBR in 2016 first framed the rules which were later replaced in January 2017 and issued a certificate to facilitate Alif Corporation for introducing the service.
Alif made investment on the technology and infrastructure but could not introduce the service mainly due to the emerging situation, including opposition from business community.
Muhith also cancelled at least three scheduled programmes at Chittagong Port to inaugurate the technology due to the same reason.
In this situation, Alif applied to the NBR for extending the validity of the rules saying that they had developed the technology on build-own-operate basis and was facing huge financial loss because of the delay in inaugurating the service.
There are 18 private inland container depots in Chittagong.
Export goods are stuffed into containers at ICDs after completion of customs procedures while 37 selected low duty import goods are unstuffed and delivered from the containers at the ICDs after physical examination and other customs procedures.