Indian export orgs seek intervention of Mamata Banerjee for resumption of trade with Bangladesh

The Daily Star  PM, May 29, 2020
Star Online Report

The Federation of Indian Export Organisations (FIEO) wrote a letter to West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee seeking her intervention for early resumption of trade with Bangladesh through land ports, which has remained suspended due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The India-Bangladesh trade through the Petrapole land port in North 24 Parganas district of West Bengal came to a halt on May 2 after two days of operations following protests by locals who feared the coronavirus infection may spread during transshipment of goods.

Local villagers on the Indian part were afraid that truck drivers and labourers involved in loading and unloading goods at the border might spread coronavirus infection when they return from Benapole.

The Indian government had written to West Bengal authorities to ensure smooth conduct of trade through land border points.

Despite the West Bengal government’s order on May 11 for the resumption of all border trade, the operations remained suspended and thousands of trucks laden with essential and perishable items are still stranded at land ports, the FIEO’s eastern regional chairman Sushil Patwari said in the letter.

The letter also said the suspension is hurting “the export-import community to a large extent, a sizeable chunk of which belongs to the MSME sector”.

Exporters have been witnessing cancellation of orders due to non-delivery of goods and importers are also seeking compensation for incurring losses at their end, according to the letter.

The letter said if there is no improvement on the ground immediately, many exporters will have to shut their offices and will become bankrupt.

“The exporters are also made to pay higher interest rates to the banks for not being able to pay the loan instalments and meet foreign exchange obligations,” Patwari said in the letter.

Meanwhile, exporters and customs clearing agents’ association in Hili land port also demanded immediate resumption of India-Bangladesh trade through Hili land port in West Bengal’s South Dinajpur district.

The association pegged an estimated loss of Rs 850 crore of businesses during the suspension period of India-Bangladesh trade using the Hili port.

Over 100 Bangladesh-bound trucks carrying onion, ginger, edible oil, chilli and stone chips are stuck at the Hili land port as the trade between the two countries has remained suspended in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

“The border trade has been stopped for almost two months due to the lockdown, which has resulted in a trade loss of Rs 850 crore. How long can traders wait? We have demanded immediate reopening of exports and imports through the land port,” Hili Exports and Customs Clearing Agents Association secretary Sanjit Majumder said.

Over 30 trucks with onion are left stranded in and around the land port and the items will perish if the border trade does not resume in a day or two, said a trader.

“Trucks with onion worth Rs 90 lakh have been waiting to go to Bangladesh. We have loaded the goods from Murshidabad as traders have anticipated that the trade would resume soon,” onion exporter Ramanath Saha said.

People who are dependent on border trade have been struggling to make ends meet, he added.

Asked about the exporters’ demand, South Dinajpur district magistrate Nikhil Nirmal said the administration has not received any instruction to open the border trade route. The initiative will be taken as soon as the instruction comes, he said.

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