Vol. 5 Num 249 Sun. February 06, 2005  
Front Page

Hartals strike exports

The business community braces for an ominous blow as the opposition parties yesterday called for yet another three-day dawn-to-dusk hartal in Chittagong for February 7, 8 and 9.

The fresh 3-day hartal call in the port city is destined to put exports and imports on the verge of collapse as two hartal series kept the industry wheels to a grinding halt for eight days in the last 10 days.

The ready-made garment exporters were the worst hit for the hartal, called first for January 29, 30 and 31 on a trot after former finance minister and Awami League (AL) leader SAMS Kibria was killed in a grenade attack in Habiganj on January 27.

The knit garment industries, in the middle of the peak season, could not actually take off after the Eid holidays for which 10 production days went down the drain.

"I have to export knit goods worth about $162,000 by February 11. If I can't reach the goods to Chittagong Port by the 10th, my container will not be loaded on the feeder vessel scheduled to depart on the February 11," moaned Sayed Azharul Haque, managing director of the Century Design and Fashion in Mirpur, yesterday.

"My buyer has warned me of air shipment if I fail to catch the February 11 feeder vessel," he said. "Now tell me, what's our fault?"

Annisul Haq, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), himself kept his fingers crossed for a miracle as his 16 truckload of goods were supposed to head to the Chittagong Port last night.

"The goods are ready and yet cannot be sent. And the vessel through which I am supposed to ship those goods is leaving the port tomorrow (Sunday)," he told The Daily Star last night. "I've sent a letter to the AL President Sheikh Hasina conveying our sympathy about the killing of Kibria. But at the same time, I mentioned how terribly the RMG sector is being affected with this series of hartals in the quota-free regime," he added.

The RMG buyers have already become all too concerned at the future of their products, which they plan to sell in March and April.

"Our buyers are very, very worried already. If this situation continues, I'm afraid, despite our sympathy for our suppliers, the buyers might start to ask for air shipment," Andrea Frattini, the business development manager of an Italian buying company in Dhaka, told the newspaper.

"We are totally helpless under this situation. Our interests are suffering a lot right now. If this is the case, I don't know how Bangladesh can survive in the world apparel business as some of our buyers have already cancelled their trips," he said.

Many garment factories also could not run their production in full swing as factory spaces were clogged with produced goods for days.

"The goods are ready to be shipped out. But I could not ship those out for hartals. I had no way but to pile the packed items up on my production floor," said Mir Mohammad Faruque, chairman of Jointex, a knit factory in the capital.

Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MCCI) President Kutubuddin Ahmed warned of an impending disaster to the economy that was peaking up.

"We businesspeople don't want killings. But we also don't support hartal," he said. "We've seen a lot of hartals in the past. But does it do any bad to those against whom the strikes were called?

"The container congestion at the port reached record high.. the businesses are coming to a standstill... vegetables and other supply of essentials are not coming from villages to Dhaka... buyers are reluctant to come to Bangladesh.. what are we getting in return for this non-stop hartal?" the MCCI boss asked in frustration.

The Chittagong Port authorities are working extra hours to ease congestion but no delivery could be made due to the countrywide strikes. About 17,000 TEUs (Twenty Equivalent Units) of goods were lying on the port sheds yesterday against the capacity of 13,500 TEUs.

Only two feeder vessels, with 588 TEUs and 226 TEUs, left the port yesterday and two others arrived with 800 TEUs of goods.