EU cargo ban

Dhaka,  Sat,  23 September 2017
Published : 11 Jul 2017, 20:25:50

EU cargo ban

The issue now is not about airport security alone. More than anything, it's an alarm bell ringing for the country's exports, and the consequence of failure to quickly fulfil all security-related compliance needs is predictable enough. It will weigh much too heavy on the economy, writes Wasi Ahmed
The fallout from the ban on direct air cargo shipment from Bangladesh by some of the country's major export destinations has begun to surface slowly, but surely. No wonder, it's a narrative foretold by many quarters including the media soon after the first ban came from Australia, followed by the UK and Germany around a year ago signaling similar action from the country's largest export destination, the EU. With the EU ban made effective a month ago, the country's exporters are counting, what most observers thought inevitable, losses. 

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 European Union countries, has put Bangladesh on the list of high-risk countries in operating direct cargo services by air and sea to the EU countries, and has slammed a ban on such operations from June 1. 

The action of the EU is far sterner. While the ban imposed by other countries relates 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 a 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 for setting up of the explosive detection system. 

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 will adversely impact the competitiveness of Bangladeshi products in terms of price and additional shipment time. The third country airports currently being availed of by Bangladeshi exporters for re-screening are those in Qatar, Dubai and Thailand. All these being busy airports, rescreening is a time consuming process. 

There are more in terms of hassles as sending the goods to a third airport for rescreening is not welcomed by many airlines. One of the foreign airlines has reportedly informed its unwillingness to carry goods from Bangladesh because of its dearth of manpower to handle shipments at the third airport/s. Some airlines have raised their fares to meet additional costs on account of rescreening at the third port/s. 

 The magnitude of the adverse situation cannot be overemphasised. Bangladesh exports well over $18 billion worth of merchandise to the EU, according to the Export Promotion Bureau (EPB) data for 2015-16 fiscal. Exports are overwhelmingly dominated by readymade garments accounting for more than $17 billion. As the most important destination of Bangladesh's exports, the EU's share is more than 60 per cent. In such a situation, it is quite predictable that the costly and time consuming exports are going to tell upon the economy seriously in the days ahead. Big export houses having direct tie-up with the overseas buyers may somehow manage to tide over the difficulties, but medium and small exporters will bear the brunt so much that they will be forced to pull down the shutter, opine industry insiders. Due to the time lag, the worst sufferers are the exporters of perishable products - fruits, vegetables and aquatic products.

It remains a big question how soon the screening facilities are going to be in place at the Hazrat Shahjalal airport. The authorities, understandably, have sat up, but this isn't going to help unless they place the screening mechanism in operation strictly in keeping with international norms as well as the bomb detecting dog squad. It is unfortunate that despite strong signals of looming ban, the authorities failed to respond on time. It has been learnt that although it was decided last year to install the screening machines, those are yet to arrive.

The issue now is not about airport security alone. More than anything, it's an alarm bell ringing for the country's exports, and the consequence of failure to quickly fulfil all security-related compliance needs is predictable enough. It will weigh much too heavy on the economy. Is anyone listening?

Editor : A.H.M Moazzem Hossain
Published by the Editor for International Publications Limited from Tropicana Tower (4th floor), 45, Topkhana Road, GPO Box : 2526 Dhaka- 1000 and printed by him from City Publishing House Ltd., 1 RK Mission Road, Dhaka-1000.
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