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Trade Stuck at West Bengal-Bangladesh Land border, Exporters Raise Concerns

Trade between India-Bangladesh, which were suspended on March 23 in view of  Covid-19 pandemic, have been restarted recently.

Trade between India-Bangladesh, which were suspended on March 23 in view of Covid-19 pandemic, have been restarted recently.

The West Bengal government is demanding that truck drivers coming from Bangladesh have to undergo a 14-day quarantine, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, before entering the state with goods, consignments.

Seeking intervention of the commerce ministry, exporters on Friday raised serious concerns over halting of consignments at the West Bengal-Bangladesh land border saying if the stalemate continues, it would impact bilateral trade.

The issue was raised by Federation of Indian Export Organisations (FIEO) President S K Saraf in a meeting with Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal through video-conferencing.

All the export promotion councils participated in the deliberations through video-conferencing.

After the meeting, Saraf said that as the West Bengal government is demanding that truck drivers coming from Bangladesh have to undergo a 14-day quarantine, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, before entering the state with goods, consignments are halted at land borders.

"Due to this, import consignments are stuck at India-Bangladesh border ports at Petrapole and Ghojadanga (India) and Benapole and Bhomra (Bangladesh) ports. We have requested the minister to take up the matter and resolve it as early as possible. Due to this, Bangladesh too have stopped our consignments. Bangladesh is our key trading partner and such move would impact relations," he told PTI.

FIEO Director General Ajay Sahai said trade was hindered at the land borders since the lockdown was started due to the COVID-19 pandemic despite the fact that the central government earmarking port and port-related activities and movement of goods to and from ports through CFS (container freight stations)/ICD (inland container depot) under essential category with adequate health safety protocols in place.

He said that cross border trade with Bangladesh through the land borders/ports in West Bengal remained a major and serious bone of contention for the trading fraternity and other stakeholders in the state and other parts of the country.

After relentless persuasion by FIEO, he said exports and imports finally resumed at these land ports from June onwards as per orders issued by the district administration.

"Though, the Petrapole-Benapole and the Ghojadanga-Bhomra international land borders continue to stay as exceptions with not a single Bangladesh truck, vehicles entering Indian territory for completion of imports.

"The situation at the ground has worsened over the last couple of days since the Kalitala Parking authorities at Bongaon, which is near the Petrapole border has completely stopped allowing entry of new export trucks with current date of registration," Sahai said.

Currently, around 500 and 550 trucks and tankers, including perishable items, are waiting at the Benapole and Bhomra borders, respectively, he said adding that if such a cross-border stalemate continues, it will impact bilateral trade relations between India and Bangladesh with traders on either side encountering the same disastrous fate.

Apart from the loss of jobs, livelihood, it implies failures on the part of the Indian exporters and importers to abide by their international trade obligations and significant loss of markets for Indian exporters to other major South Asian countries, Sahai said.

The bilateral trade between India and Bangladesh has increased to USD 10.25 billion in 2018-19 from USD 9.3 billion in the previous year.

About 60 per cent of exports and imports between the two countries take place through the land routes. India's major export commodities to Bangladesh include raw cotton; cotton yarns, fabrics; iron and steel; petroleum products; auto and vehicle components; spices. While the major items imported by India include ready made garments; vegetable oils; raw jute; jute yarns; inorganic chemicals.

This issue has cropped up at a time when the trader community faces similar issues at ports for containers coming from China. According to the FIEO president, now the issue has been resolved and customs authorities are clearing the consignments at a faster pace.

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