Blockade raises cost of business

Exporters, importers face hard time with no sign of an end to political violence

Blcokade-TDS

Arifur Rahman, a cotton importer and spinner, is in deep trouble.

He has been paying Tk 70,000 a day in port demurrage for over a week as he cannot have the imported cotton transported to his factory in Mymensingh from Chittagong port due to the ongoing blockade.

Rahman cannot continue production at his factory in Bhaluka for shortage of cotton.

“If I fail to bring the fibre to my factory, I will lose buyers,” said a worried Rahman, who had imported it from the US a few weeks ago.

Like him, hundreds of exporters and importers in the garment and other sectors face heavy financial losses due to the BNP-led alliance’s non-stop blockade and a series of shutdowns.

The industrial sector is the worst hit by the ongoing political crisis that continues to hamper smooth transportation of goods to and from factories and ports.

Now, fewer trucks and covered vans carry goods, as most operators are unwilling to run their vehicles fearing arson attacks by pickets.

In some cases, truckers agree to carry goods, but they ask for double the usual fares.

Rustom Ali Khan, general secretary of Bangladesh Truck and Covered Van Owners Association, said around 14,000 vans usually ply between Dhaka and Chittagong every day but the figure slumped to about 7,000 during the blockade.

Even the number of trucks carrying goods between the capital and Chittagong port went down by more than half from about 1,14,000 a day, said Rustom.

He admitted that fares have doubled due to unavailability of trucks and vans.

“Drivers don’t want to carry goods in fear of arson attacks on the road,” he added.

A number of importers and exporters said they have to pay police personnel for escorting goods-laden trucks to and from ports and factories.

Wishing anonymity, a businessman said he had to pay Tk 1,000 at every police station from Chittagong to his factory in Mymensingh for escorting trucks carrying raw materials for his factory.

Bakhtiar Uddin Ahmed, general manager at Fakir Apparels in Narayanganj, said, “Normally, truck fare from Narayanganj to Chittagong hovers around Tk 15,000. But, now I have to pay Tk 30,000 to 35,000.”

He said if the blockade continues, they would have to send goods to various destinations by expensive air shipments to maintain strict lead time set by international retailers.

“We now send goods to port spending additional money to keep our commitments to buyers. If their confidence in us wanes, we will lose everything,” said Bakhtiar.

“If we fail to send goods timely, buyers will switch over to other destinations such as Vietnam, Myanmar, India or Pakistan,” he added.

Voicing worries at the ongoing political violence, Atiqul Islam, president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, said, “Our losses are piling up … we cannot ship our goods. If this situation persists, we will go bankrupt soon.”

“Our buyers are concerned about shipments of goods … they are continuously making queries about the political situation in the country,” the president of the garment makers’ platform told this correspondent yesterday.

A couple of days back, he said a group of US-based garment retailers had written to him and hinted at diverting work orders from Bangladesh to other destinations if the political crisis doesn’t end soon.

“The retailers said they are thinking of an alternative to Bangladesh as the ongoing blockade is hampering timely shipment of garment items,” he told The Daily Star.