Strike piles up trade cargoes; prolonged stand-off feared
Freight forwarders, cargo agents protest
KARACHI: A strike by freight forwarders and air cargo agents is piling up cargo containers at the country’s main port as delays in offloading and taking on new cargo is causing fears that a prolonged stand-off will cost the economy billions of rupees.
The strike, observed in protest against eight percent turnover tax, entered the second day on Wednesday, bringing the external trade to nearly halt, said a protesting leader.
Pakistan International Freight Forwarders Association (PIFFA) and Air Cargo Agents Association of Pakistan (ACAAP) had announced strike for indefinite period until government resolves all the issues, which include withdrawal of the turnover tax.
Farukh Iqbal, chairman of Air Cargo Agents Association of Pakistan (ACAAP) said there was no bill of leading for exporters to ship goods through dry ports/sea ports/airports/bonded container freight station.
“No one from government’s side came forward to negotiate with us,” he said.
“We have written several letters to the Federal Board of Revenue, finance ministry and Prime Minister’s secretariat, but the government was not ready to listen to our grievances.”
Even various trade bodies took up this issue with the government, which seems to be indifferent to trade and commerce, he added. The cargo agents’ leader said since no government official had contacted them on Wednesday they decided to continue the strike.
“Our members are not responsible or liable for any direct or consequential losses suffered by trade due to strike as government has forced our member companies to take the extreme decision to close businesses in protest against the imposition of this unjust tax, which itself means closure of businesses,” he said.
An official at a leading terminal operator of Karachi port told The News that the strike had already slowed down the activities.
“If this situation persists for another four to five days the goods waiting for clearance will pile up to create menace,” he said. “And, it will take 20 to 25 days or even more to do clearance in addition to jack up the operational cost for exporters and importers in form of extra port duties.”
He added that the government is not realising the fact.
Freight forwarders didn’t issue any bill of leading for exports and there was no delivery order for lifting the import consignment at terminals. If the situation persists it will create handling issues.
Perishable export/import items can be ruined if not cleared on time.
The terminal operator said clearing agents and freight forwarders don’t work on high turnovers and higher taxes can lead to the closure of their businesses.
A leading exporter Jawed Bilwani said government’s non-serious attitude to resolve any industry issue is marring trade. The country’s exports are already suffering and with the ongoing strike of the freight forwarders and other stakeholders will further hamper the exports.
Bilwani said last year good transporters called strike and the government didn’t seriously take the issue. It was only after 12 days, during which traders sustained huge losses the government came for negotiation with the protestors.
He said the present government allows an issue to blow out of proportion before coming for the rescue.
Fawad Ijaz Khan, Patron-in-Chief of Pakistan Leather Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association said the government has failed to resolve the issues facing freight forwarders and air cargo agents.
“We have been trying to contact the various ministries, including finance and commerce ministries, but no one was available to listen to our grievances,” Khan said.
“Our members are worried about their consignments and their orders might be cancelled if not shipped on time.”
Shabbir Ahmed, former chairman of Pakistan Bedwear Exporters Association said the government should seriously take notice of the matter and immediately resolve the issues of the logistics sector. Ahmed said small exporters will suffer the most due to the strike.