Export-import trade through Chattogram seaport shows an upturn on a month-on-month basis by official count, in what is seen a sign of economic pickup.
The main seaport of Bangladesh, which handles over 90 per cent of the country's export-import operations, recorded a substantial rise in both the submission of bills of export and import and the volume of goods clearance in March last, said officials.
Some 10,720,137 tonnes of products were imported through Chattogram Customs House (CCH) in the past month, compared to 7,905,483 tonnes in February and 8,522,403 tonnes in January, according to data compiled by CCH.
The CCH received 37,428 bills of entry (B/E) in March against 28,478 in February and 36,989 in January.
Revenue collection by the CCH from the merchandise imports jumped to Tk 57.46 billion in March on the back of rebounding external trade - the amount was Tk 42.87 billion in February and Tk 47.44 billion in January.
CCH officials said the submission of both export and import started increasing month on month-after a tightening amid foreign-exchange crunch-- though it has yet to reach last year's mark.
"It's a good sign" that the import of raw materials, including clinkers of cement and lubricating oils, showed an upward trend in recent months, they added.
Some 40,643 and 33,979 BEs were submitted in November and December last year while a total of 41,943 BEs submitted in March 2022.
In March 2022, some 10,914,750 tonnes of goods were imported against 41,943 BEs.
However, economists see such an increase as a temporary phenomenon, saying that it will not sustain until the country's foreign-exchange-reserve situation improves.
Dr Zahid Hussain, former lead economist at Dhaka office of World Bank, sees no reason to feel comfortable on the month-to-month import situation until the government eases control of exchange rates.
"Submission of bills of entry may increase temporarily… unless the dollar situation improves, the condition will remain the same," he says.
The country's foreign-exchange reserves were on the decline, he observed.
If this situation continues, domestic industry and employment generation will suffer in the long run, he added.
As per CCH data, goods in terms of net weight almost reached last year's mark - 10,720,137 tonnes - on a month-on-month basis in March 2023.
Trade economist Dr Masrur Reaz, chairman and founder of Policy Exchange Bangladesh, says the improved export-import situation shows that the economy is turning around, but the government should still make cautious steps on relaxing its control mechanisms.
"As current-account deficit has started declining, the government could relax some of its measures on import of goods," he suggests.
However, he thinks curbs on import are not a healthy measure for the economy as it leaves an impact on manufacturing industries.
On the increase in imports, he said higher growth of import of raw materials and capital machinery shows a green signal on the economy, not on import of consumer goods.
"We have to remain cautious for a few more months to check any uncontrollable increase in imports overnight."
The volume of import of top 14 items - fuel oil, furnace oil, cement clinker, high-speed diesel oils, palm oil, ferrous waste and scrap, coal, milk and cream powder, orange, broken or crushed stone, apples, apparatus for transmission or reception of voice, images or other data, polypropylene, standard wire, cable and lubricating oil - has been analysed by the FE.
The import of fuel oils and furnace oil jumped to 357195.83 tonnes in March, compared to 199,602.82 tonnes in February, 154603.23 tonnes in January and 278,623.29 tonnes in December last.
The import of cement clinkers increased to 2,332,652.81 tonnes in March - the volume was 1,676,222.24 tonnes in February, 1618,357.04 tonnes in January, and 1,309141.26 tonnes in December.
Palm oil import jumped to 100,572.51 tonnes in March, while the figure was 53,058.44 tonnes in February and 51,460.80 tonnes in January.
Ferrous waste and scrap import increased substantially to 641,656.81 tonnes in March, compared to 146981.34 tonnes in February and 238116.42 tonnes in January.
Import of milk and cream powder increased by nearly 10 times to 10,852 tonnes in March - the import volume was 1603.53 tonnes and 7,306.80 tonnes, respectively, in February and January.
Despite imposition of high duty taxes on non-essential items, the import of fresh apples doubled to 20,260.27 tonnes in March from 10,076.39 tonnes and 10,451.92 tonnes in February and January, respectively.
Fresh or dried orange import also surged 136 per cent in March to 23,506.16 tonnes, compared to 9,942 tonnes and 6,383 tonnes, respectively, in February and January.
However, high-speed diesel oil import declined to 255,885.87 tonnes in March - the import figure was 370,954.16 tonnes in February, 297,679 tonnes in January and 355,380.59 tonnes in December.
The import of broken and crushed stone dropped to 671,750 tonnes in March compared to 1,116,453 tonnes in February.
The import of polypropylene, wire, cable and lubricating oil grew to 20,903.88 tonnes, 2,504.15 tonnes and 5,801.08 tonnes in March compared to that of 16,250.57 tonnes, 37.79 tonnes and 2466.11 tonnes in February.
"We have observed an improved trade situation in March and April. Submission of the Bills of Export and Import increased substantially in two months," said Bodruzzaman Munshi, deputy commissioner of Customs, CCH.
According to CCH, Export BEs were 140,301 in March compared to 134,427 in February.
In January, the bills of export were 146,012, followed by 138,324 in December, 118,452 in November.
In March 2022, a total of 156,135 bills of export were submitted in the CCH.
Mr Munshi said revenue collection from import sources would get a pace if such trend in import continues.
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