Ports, Customs remain operational amid lockdown

KARACHI: Government on Tuesday decided to keep all ports and custom services operational while provincial administrations declared partial lockdowns for a fortnight in the country amid coronavirus outbreak.

The ministry of maritime affairs said all ports and custom operations including imports, exports and allied functions are essential services and would continue for 15 days starting March 24.

The ministry advised the provincial governments to also declare ports, Pakistan National Shipping Company and maritime-related affairs as essential services to deal with the current emerging situation of coronavirus COVID-19.

“If the ports and marine activities are curbed, then the country would come to gridlock and there would be shortage of everything including medicines, medical supplies, edibles and petroleum products,” the ministry said in a statement. “This will further aggravate the existing coronavirus threat with severe social and economic implications.”

Sea trade is vital for Pakistan’s economy having a size of less than $300 billion. Exports and imports contribute 10 to 20 percent to GDP, but are important to keep the economy running.

The economic growth already decelerated to 3.3 percent last year from 5.5 percent and expected to fall further to below three percent this fiscal year. Traders complained that they were facing troubles and they were barred from entering the Customs House.

“Although the ports are operational, but clearance of imported cargoes has been stopped. Customs agents are not exempted from traveling restrictions,” an importer Munawar Umar said.

“If the importers and agents can’t open their offices and travel to custom, then there is no point in continuing the port operations. There will be extreme congestion at the ports, if customs agents are not facilitated in doing their jobs,” Umar said.

Custom agents said import cargo has to go to all parts of the country, and export cargo has to come to port from all over the country, and it is important that the agents are allowed to travel on roads and permitted to enter the Customs House.

Meanwhile, the attestation department of the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry decided to remain partially open with limited staff throughout the lockdown period to facilitate the documentation requirements of the exporters.

The department is responsible for issuing the ‘certificate of origin’ to export-oriented industries. Pakistan’s geographic location is attractive for economic, political, and energy reasons. The country has a border with China in the northwest, Afghanistan in the west, India in the east, Iran in the southwest, and the Arabian Sea in the South.

It is the gateway of Central Asia and the Middle East and plays a vital role in transport economy. The country also serves as a transit route to non-coastal courtiers, Central Asian states, and Afghanistan to trade by providing smooth access to the worldwide market by the Arabian Sea.