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Customs wants skeleton staff to facilitate trade in virus outbreak

By Our Correspondent
March 29, 2020

KARACHI: Pakistan Customs has reiterated its resolve to keep facilitating trade activities amid coronavirus lockdown, asking shipping lines and clearing agents to ensure presence of necessary staff at the ports, sources said on Saturday.

Customs directed shipping lines and their agents to ensure presence of necessary staff for facilitation of clearance of export and import cargoes.

Model Customs Collectorate (enforcement and compliance) Karachi issued instructions to All Pakistan Shipping Association and Pakistan Shipping Agents Association to ensure presence of their essential staff for routine work in order to facilitate the trade during lockdown due to outbreak of coronavirus.

The customs authorities said the shipping lines and agents should ensure the availability of essential staff for the maximum utilisation of information technology, e-payment and electronic communication systems for their routine transactions, documentation and communications with traders, clearing agents, transporters and terminal operators.

MCC Appraisement East also issued advisory to all officers and officials for taking precautionary measures in the wake of coronavirus outbreak.

Traders and office staff complained that they were facing troubles and they were barred from entering the Customs House. The ministry of maritime affairs earlier said all ports and custom operations including imports, exports and allied functions are essential services and would continue for 15 days starting March 24.

The ministry advised the provincial governments to also declare ports, Pakistan National Shipping Company and maritime-related affairs as essential services to deal with the current emerging situation of coronavirus COVID-19.

“If the ports and marine activities are curbed, then the country would come to gridlock and there would be shortage of everything including medicines, medical supplies, edibles and petroleum products,” the ministry said in a statement then. “This will further aggravate the existing coronavirus threat with severe social and economic implications.”

Sea trade is vital for Pakistan’s economy having a size of less than $300 billion. Exports and imports contribute 10 to 20 percent to GDP, but are important to keep the economy running. The economic growth already decelerated to 3.3 percent last year from 5.5 percent and expected to fall further to below three percent this fiscal year.

The custom staffs were advised to wear mask at the office and no one would be allowed to enter without face mask. Officials were asked to avoid shaking hands and close contacts. Visitors entering Custom House Karachi would be checked for coronavirus. All traders and clearing agents were advised to talk to the concerned group section head of customs over telephone with reference to the redressal of their grievances.

The necessary requests / applications might be submitted at the entrance of the collectorate that would be forwarded to the concerned group heads for quick disposal. All the customs officials with cardiovascular conditions, asthma, diabetics or with abnormal symptoms of undiagnosed flu or fever must bring it to the knowledge of the relevant heads for alternate arrangements.