New inland container depots (ICDs) with container storage capacity of 1 lakh TEUs are needed to cope with growing apparel exports that aim to hit the $100 billion mark by 2030.
Currently, there are 19 private ICDs in Chattogram with a total capacity of 76,000 TEUs (twenty feet equivalent units). These ICDs usually have around 25-30% vacant space, but after the recent fire at the BM Container Depot on 4 June, the remaining ICDs are almost full.
Nurul Qayyum Khan, president of the Bangladesh Inland Container Depot Association (Bicda), said, "We need new investment in setting up ICDS so that we can better handle growing export boxes."
ICDs play an important role in the country's exports, but are provided little support or incentives, and Bicda has no recognition as a trade body, he also said, adding that other business associations play a role in regional trade bodies, including the FBCCI, but Bicda is not given that opportunity.
"Various business organisations elect directors from small trade bodies and the government gives them the status of commercially important persons. Although inland container depots or ICDs play an important role in the country's economy, they are not given the status and importance of a trade body, nor can they avail any state benefits. Business organisations do not even want to know what role this sector plays."
"Goods are not loaded or unloaded inside the port anywhere in the world. That is done at ICDs and container freight stations, but at Chattogram port containers are still opened to unload and deliver goods," he added.
According to ICD owners, there was a container clutter at Chattogram port when Covid-19 hit the country. To resolve the crisis, the NBR decided to deliver all types of imported goods from ICDs. Consequently, ICDs started delivering imported goods within 10 days of arrival of containers, which played a vital role in resolving container congestion.
Sources at the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) said ICDs are struggling to cope with the current growth in exports in the readymade garment sector. As the quantity of goods sent to depots from different factories increases during Eid, the line of covered vans on the road carrying goods becomes longer.
Businesses have to wait for more than 10 days to unload goods from a truck. The same situation has arisen this Eid-ul-Azha. If the number of ICDs is not increased right away, the country's exports will face a huge crisis, said BGMEA sources.
Rakibul Alam Chowdhury, vice-president of BGMEA, told TBS, "Private ICDs are not yet fully capable of loading export goods into containers. The number of ICDs needs to be doubled to cope with the growth of the readymade garments sector."
"If the concerned authorities including the Chattogram Port Authority do not take initiatives now, there is a looming disaster ahead in the future," he added.
According to Bicda sources, the first ICD in the country, Iqbal Depot at Kalurghat, Chattogram, was launched in 1998. Until 2007 there were seven ICDs in the country. The number of ICDs started increasing during the caretaker government in 2008, and gradually there were 19.
Construction of two more new ICDs are in the final stages and they will come into operation soon.
Bicda Secretary General Ruhul Amin Sikder said, currently the investment in ICDs is Tk12,000 crore and about 35,000 people work at these ICDs.
In November 2021, the National Board of Revenue (NBR) formulated a new policy for ICDs. According to that policy, ICDs must be built on a minimum of 15 acres of land.
Bicda has called for separate policies for clearing and forwarding agents, shipping agents, and importers and exporters who use ICDs that handle imported and exported goods.