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Transshipment of Goods to NE: India starts first trial run using B'desh port

 হয়ে আসাম ও ত্রিপুরায় যাচ্ছে ভারতীয় পণ্য

India has begun its first ever trial run of the much-talked-about transshipment of goods to its north-eastern states through Bangladesh's Chattogram port.

A ship "MV Shejyoti" left Shyama Prasad Mukherjee Port in Kolkata yesterday morning with 108 containers of goods. It will arrive at Chattogram port on July 20, according to officials from the Indian High Commission and Bangladesh's shipping ministry.

Of the 108 containers, four carrying iron and pulse will be transported to Tripura and Assam of India through Akhaura-Agartala land port, said Yakub Sujan Bhuiyan, managing director of Mango Line Limited, also agent of the ship "MV Shejyoti".

The rest of the goods are being brought by Bangladeshi importers, he said, but could not confirm the quantity.

"We have already made all the preparations. But I will get to know the details of the goods after the ship leaves Haldia Port," Yakub told this newspaper.

The trial transshipment was supposed to start in March, but got delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The containers of iron belonging to SM Corporation will be transported to Jirania in West Tripura and the two other containers of pulse will be transported by Jain Traders to Karimganj in Assam, according to the shipment documents.

Based on the outcome of the trial run, a fully-fledged transshipment of Indian goods will start through Bangladesh, said officials concerned.

They, however, could not confirm when it will begin.

State Minister for Shipping Khalid Mahmud Chowdhury said beginning of the transshipment of Indian goods through Bangladeshi ports opens a new era of Indo-Bangla relations.

"The relations between Bangladesh and India is special. We will cooperate with each other in every possible way," he said at a webinar on Wednesday night.

Dhaka and Delhi signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on the use of the Chattogram and Mongla ports in 2015, following years of persuasion from India.

Subsequently, the countries signed an agreement in 2018 and a standard operating procedure (SoP) during Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's visit to India in October last year.

According to the SoP, goods reaching Chattogram and Mongla sea ports would be carried by four road, rail, and water routes to Agartala (Tripura) via Akhaura; Dawki (Meghalaya) via Tamabil; Sutarkandi (Assam) via Sheola, and Srimantpur (Tripura) via Bibirbazar.

Chattogram Port Secretary Omar Farooq said charges for Indian goods will be the same as for goods transported for Bangladesh.

Chattogram Custom House will collect seven types of tariffs on Indian goods, as per a letter sent from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh to the High Commission of India in Dhaka on July 5, he told This newspaper.

The charges include Tk 30 for document processing per consignment, Tk 20 per tonne of goods for trans-shipment, Tk 100 per tonne as security charge, Tk 50 per tonne as escort charge, Tk 100 for other administrative charges, and Tk 254 per container for scanning. Electric lock and seal fees will be charged as per rules, according to the letter.

Road fees will not be charged for the trial run, a shipping ministry official said.

According to the deal between Dhaka and Delhi, Indian ships will get priority in terms of goods loading and unloading.

Asked about it, Omar Farooq said this priority does not mean that local ships will be left out of the jetty for giving space to the Indian ships. "The priority will be given provided that there is space at the jetty and yard."

Asked what will happen in a scenario that on the same day two ships -- one owned by Bangladeshi businesses and the other one is an Indian ship -- arrive, he said, "As per the agreement between the two countries, of course the Indian goods-carrying ship will be given priority."

Requesting anonymity, an official at the Chattogram port said the port has nothing to do with this issue. "We have to do it as per the deal though shortages of space at the jetty remain a problem for five to six months of the year as a lot of ships come to the port."

He said initially, India wanted a dedicated jetty and yard for Indian ships, but Bangladesh decided not to give it, but offloading of goods would be done on a priority basis.

BGMEA Vice President AM Chowdhury Selim said currently the traffic at the port is slim because of the pandemic, but when the port becomes busy and the volume of Indian ships goes up, the Bangladeshi businesses will face trouble.

"One businessman cannot do good if his business is not prioritised in his own country," he told This newspaper.

BGMEA former vice president Nasir Uddin Chowdhury said offloading and supply of imported goods takes a lot of time in Bangladesh for various reasons. If Indian ships are prioritised, it will have a negative impact on the businesses in Bangladesh.

Bangladesh Shipping Agents Association President Ahsanul Haque Chowdhury said, "We are not sure of the volume of Indian goods to be transported through this port. So, we cannot say anything for sure at this moment. However, if port facilities are not expanded in line with the increase in goods volume, it will surely affect the import and export."