Blockade batters business in Chittagong

Businesses in Chitta-gong are reeling from the effects of the indefinite countrywide blockade since January 6, just like businesses elsewhere.  Worst is the effect on port activities as the Chittagong port handles around 80 percent of the country’s import and export.

The blockade has disrupted the supply chain. The number of vehicles carrying goods in and out of the port has fallen to around 200 a day from the usual 1,000, amid fears of petrol bomb attacks and vandalism, said Nasir Uddin Ahmed Chowdhury, first vice-president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association.

The supply chain has been affected, and many of the 4,000 garment factories in Dhaka and Gazipur have failed to meet supply deadlines, he said.

A lot of exporters have had to switch to air freight, making costs increase manifold, he said.

Buyers do not want to come to Bangladesh due to present political unrest, Chowdhury said, adding that a prolonged impasse would affect the economy adversely. Business in Khatunganj, the port city’s wholesale hub for daily essentials, has also suffered from the blockade, with traders losing around Tk 4,000 crore in lost sales in the last 20 days.

On a normal day, the average daily turnover in Khatunganj is Tk 900-1,200 crore, but it has fallen to around Tk 200 crore a day due to blockade and hartals, said Syed Sagir Ahmed, general secretary of Khatunganj Trade and Business Association.

“We cannot send our goods out and those remain in the warehouses day after day,” he said, adding that perishable goods like onions are going bad, causing Tk 200- 250 crore in losses every day.

The worst is that 15,000 day labourers, who have no other source of income, have been almost jobless, Ahmed, also a director of Chittagong Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said.

“Like the politicians’ right to do politics, it is our right to do business. Why would they throw petrol bombs on goods-laden vehicles? Why would they violate our rights to do business?”

Although loading and unloading activities are normal inside Chittagong port, the drivers fear carrying goods outside due to violence on the highways, said Ismail Bara Miah, joint general secretary of Chittagong District Truck and Covered Van Workers’ Union.

Some seven workers have been burnt in petrol bomb attacks on the Dhaka-Chittagong highway in the last 20 days, he said. Two of them died from the injuries.