Facilitation of speedy disposal of the goods is very much significant in international trade and commerce
Perishable goods refer to the goods or a product with a short lifetime, that is to say, goods as such continue to metabolize and respire after harvest.
In other words, perishable goods e.g., dairy, meat, seafood, vegetables, fruits etc., easily ripens or deteriorates and the quality degrades due to longer period, environment conditions and poor temperature.
As is well known, the time taken in transportation of the perishable goods requires a special kind of attention for mitigating the risks associated with the goods e.g., the risk of spoilage, loss of freshness, quality and decay.
While the success in reducing risks depends largely on multifarious steps or processes, one of the first steps to minimize the risk is "the speedy customs clearance of perishable goods."
Facilitation of speedy disposal of the goods is very much significant in international trade and commerce.
Without quick customs clearance, the perishable goods remain at the ports which increase the risk of decay and compromise the quality of the goods.
The trading companies or bodies engaged in the export-import or international trade of these goods economically suffer losses a lot because of this.
Of late, the country has seen a rise in the export-import despite the Covid-19 pandemic, the goods are stuck at the ports for long due to unprecedented imposed shutdowns.
It has significantly affected the concerned trading bodies or companies.
Several reports suggest that for the past few months there have been several occurrences of congestion at the port in the country.
As such, containers loaded with perishable goods were left abandoned by the importers at the ports.
But while the customs authority has taken care of this issue for the time being and has begun to dispose of the goods quite immediately, legislative action is needed to avert a similar crisis in the long run.
It is worth mentioning that there were no regulations with regards to this situation.
In the past, perishable cargoes imported through the ports of Chittagong and Mongla in reefer containers often remained stranded in the port as there was no law which would require the authorities to empty the container and discharge the cargo within any specific time limit if the receivers did not take delivery of the cargo.
This resulted in the container along with the cargo lying in the reefer yard for months and in most cases the cargo would get totally damaged, and the container would also sustain damages.
If the shipping lines obtained a court order directing the authority to dispose the cargo, the authorities would form a committee of multiple government agencies consisting of customs, port, police, Border Guard Bangladesh, Bangladesh Coast Guard, City Corporation, Department of Environment and other agencies, and from the time of getting the order of the Court giving direction to dispose of the cargo till actual discharge would take many months.
The port authority would impose the cost of storage on the shipping agents.
As such, in absence of proper guidelines by the government, an inevitable increase of delay could be seen while dealing with the release or disposal of the perishable goods leaving a significant impact on the global maritime trading in Bangladesh.
Therefore, in order to mitigate the global shortage of container and congestion at the ports in Bangladesh, the National Board of Revenue (NBR) has issued on August 11 earlier this year a new set of rules titled "Perishable Goods Speedy Release and Disposal Regulations-2021" to accelerate the import and export of 64 types of perishable goods at the ports in Bangladesh.
This regulation has been enacted at a very opportune moment given the underlying crisis at the port.
It will not only make the discharge procedure of the goods easier but also speed up the customs duty process.
This newly formed regulation will now ensure the quick discharge of the livestock, birds, animals, ducks, chicken, poultry, frozen fish, yeast, mushrooms, fresh fruits, vegetables, raw rubber, unprocessed tobacco, oil seeds, potatoes, cereals, grains, lentils etc.
The given list of perishable goods provided under the appendix, the regulations also includes: sugar, testing salt, dairy products, frozen and processed meats, poultry eggs, chocolate, biscuits, chips, noodles, pickles, dry fruits, tea leaves, garlic, chilies, gingers, tamarind, soya berry D, raisins, all food and cosmetics for a period not exceeding six months, medicines and medicinal raw materials and edible oils.
Additionally, to speed up the customs duty, customs officials are now required to complete all procedures including customs assessments and examination of the perishable goods within 48 hours of the submission of the bill of entry for disposal of perishable goods (Rule-5 of the 2021 Regulations) provided the taxes and duties are cleared.
This Regulations of 2021 provides provision for formation of a separate commodity disposal committee in order to conduct the auction of perishable goods or any other way of disposal who under the Rule 8(2) of the regulations must complete the disposal of the perishable goods by auction or in any other manner within not more than 48 hours irrespective of day or night.
It should be noted that the commissioner may, subject to the reasonable grounds, extend the aforesaid period.
Instances of reasonable grounds are: where instructed by customs intelligence, risk management or if the products selected for physical examination etc.
The government of Bangladesh with the enactment of this regulation has complied with the conditions of the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and has ensured the fast-track release and clearance of perishable goods by supporting the country's supply chain.
The writers are lawyers of MCLaw Services, being the head of the chambers and associate of MCLaw Services respectively