The National Board of Revenue (NBR) will make electronic seals mandatory to enhance security in transportation of Indian goods using Chattogram and Mongla ports under the transit agreement.
The use of electronic seals will reduce the risk of theft and pilferage while goods are transported in containers or covered vans from ports. In particular, customs officials' difficulty guarding Indian goods during transportation will be reduced.
The customs modernisation desk is working on issuing rules in this regard.
An electronic seal is a state-of-the-art radio frequency identification device that resists tampering. With this seal, the location of the shipment can be easily identified automatically. It must be opened and closed with a key.
The NBR has issued rules for electronic seals three times, from 2016 to 2018, for the security of import-export goods from ports to depots. But it was not possible to implement it in the face of objections from businessmen.
According to customs officials, electronic seals are used for goods in transit in different parts of the world. It does not require additional security for the safety of products.
Senior NBR officials said the board will soon issue guidelines to make electric seals mandatory. The relevant branch is working in this regard. This provision will be amended as per demand.
Abdul Mannan Shikder, member (Customs Audit, Modernisation and International Trade) at NBR, told The Business Standard that electric seals ultimately must be made mandatory. However, he did not comment on when the rules would be issued.
Speaking to TBS, Omar Mobin, second secretary (Customs International Trade and Agreements) at NBR, said the customs modernisation branch is starting work on the issue of electric seal guidelines. Once the work is completed, the rules will be issued by the Customs International Trade and Agreement branch.
According to the NBR's previous rules, the fee for an electric seal was set at Tk600 per container for 48 hours and Tk50 per hour thereafter.
The company providing the seal is supposed to collect this fee. According to an NBR directive, this fee will not be imposed until the electronic lock and seal provider is appointed. However, due to the ineffectiveness of the rules, electric seals could not be used in goods shipments covered by the transit agreement.
As a result, transit goods are transported under guard by customs officers. Due to the non-use of electric seals, customs could not collect the duty in this regard.
In October 2018, Dhaka and Delhi entered into an agreement to allow India to use Bangladesh's two seaports – Chattogram and Mongla – as transit points to carry goods to and from India's north-eastern states.
A standard operating procedure was signed in this regard – one year after a meeting between Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi – in New Delhi in October 2019.
Following the agreement, the first shipment using Chattogram port was brought in July 2020.
Often cases of theft occur during the transportation of imported goods from Chattogram port or export goods off-dock. Bangladesh's image is thus tarnished before foreign buyers due to the non-delivery of goods as per orders. Traders said that such unwanted theft could have been prevented if there had been electric seals.
Traders also said that under the previous rules of the NBR, the fee for an electric seal is very high. Congestion at the port and traffic congestion on the road will increase their costs in sending goods from the port or ICD to the destination. So it should be ensured that the fees for the electric seal remain at a tolerable level.
Syed Mohammad Arif, chairman of the Bangladesh Shipping Agents Association, told TBS that the image of the country is damaged by the theft of goods from containers.
"The main line operators of ships are held accountable. Hence, it is logical to make electric seals mandatory. That matter should be taken into consideration in determining the tax so that the cost of doing business does not increase," he added.