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April 1, 2020

Pakistan’s ports chock-a-block on sluggish imports’ clearance

Business

April 1, 2020

KARACHI: Amid coronavirus-led lockdown, import containers are piling up at the ports with the importers not furnishing essential documents to get their consignments cleared due to lack of goods transportation, officials said on Tuesday.

An official at the Port Qasim said the importers are not filing goods declarations – a document that initiates the assessment and clearance process – as the cleared goods could not be transported to the destinations upcountry due to lack of transportation.

“A large number of imported consignments are meant for upcountry, which are now piling up at port terminals due to absence of transportation,” the official added.

Usually, around 10,000 containers land at ports every day. The number came down 30 percent in the last couple of days. But, still more than 6,000 containers are landing at the ports each day, and not all of them are being cleared.

The official said traffic of vessels slows down, but still the cargoes are coming. “There is no space at the terminal yards, and containers are now being dumped wherever the space is available,” the official said. “There is no marking or recordkeeping of these containers. After the lockdown is lifted, there would be a whole lot of mess in finding and assessing these containers.”

Sindh administration was the first that announced lockdown in the province last month to contain spread of coronavirus COVID-19. While it exempted goods transportation from the movement ban, port operation got disturbed as travelling upcountry was seen under strict monitoring of the provincial authority.

The government has not yet imposed a force majeure, and port operations are continuing. However, absence of transportation and non-filing of GDs by commercial importers have caused congestion at the ports.

An official at Karachi Port Trust said the port is operating efficiently. “Essential goods are being cleared and transported, while the non-essential goods are being stored separately to be cleared later.”

Government has extended the timeline for filing of goods declarations (GDs) to 25 days, which earlier was 10 days from the date of cargo arrival. An official at DP World, an operator of Qasim International Container Terminal confirmed with the News that there is a severe congestion at the port terminal due to slow deliveries.

“At this point of time, customs should facilitate all terminals to obtain more space from the port authorities to discharge the cargo,” the official said.

Importer Syed Farhan said a significant portion of the country’s imports comprise raw materials, which are not cleared as the industrial units are closed. “As the timeline has been increased, importers would file GDs at least after 20 days,” Farhansaid. Arshad Jamal of All Pakistan Customs Agents Association said port terminals are overflowing and the imported consignments are dumped at empty spaces. “Importers are not filing GDs due to non-recovery of funds from markets, shortened banking hours and unavailability of transport,” Jamal said. “Until the goods are cleared these are the responsibility of customs and port authorities.”

That government has already banned import of crude oil and refined petroleum products, while there has been no spot buying of liquefied natural gas in last three months. Every segment of the shipping industry is affected, while cargo volumes are on the downward trend and clearance of imported consignments is going slow. Essential goods are cleared and transported and non-essential items and commercial imports are piling up at the country’s seaports.