Exports to Afghanistan suspended as clearing agents go on strike

Published December 15, 2020
Trucks parked near Torkham border crossing as clearing agents boycotted work on Monday. — Dawn
Trucks parked near Torkham border crossing as clearing agents boycotted work on Monday. — Dawn

KHYBER: The export of Pakistani goods to Afghanistan via Torkham border came to a halt on Monday after the local clearing agents stopped work to protest lack of facilities at the border crossing.

The protesters said the strike would continue until the authorities met their all demands.

Torkham Customs Clearing Agents president Hazrat Umar told them at the border crossing that they all had long been demanding the round-the-clock border opening for speedy trade with Afghanistan, abolition of scanning condition for all types of export goods, and fixing of a separate place for the examination of export and import goods.

He demanded of the authorities to stop the clearance of goods except fresh food items after 5pm and not register FIRs against clearing agents, whose vehicles carried minor illegal items.

Protesters demand facilities at Torkham border crossing

Mr Umar said the government had failed to deliver on promises of better internet and electricity services at the time of goods clearance as the customs department had made the clearing of export goods mandatory under the new web-based One Custom Rule.

He said most of the custom clearing agents didn’t have electric supply in offices, while the DSL internet service was very slow and faulty seriously affecting their business.

The protesters also held a meeting with both customs and security officials for the resolution of their problems, but to no avail.

Sources said the strike also affected the import of fresh fruits and other items from Afghanistan and hundreds of vehicles loaded with goods remained stranded on both sides of the border.

They said currently, Pakistan exported cement, fresh oranges and retail goods to Afghanistan via Torkham border but slow custom clearance coupled with the long-drawn-out electronic scanning of export items had adversely affected exports to Afghanistan.

Rejecting the official claim of a 30 per cent increase in exports to Afghanistan via Torkham border, the local clearing agents insist that the overall number of loaded trucks and containers had dropped to mere 100 daily against the previous 600-800.

Pakistan had announced in Sept last year that it would keep the Torkham border crossing open 24/7 to boost its trade with Afghanistan.

However, the clearing agents said the custom authorities had failed to provide necessary facilities to the local importers and exporters.

Custom officials on the border contended that the uncooperative attitude of their Afghan counterparts was one of the main reasons hindering round-the-clock opening of the border crossing.

They said the closure of the country’s all borders with Afghanistan in March due to the outbreak of novel coronavirus had also affected trading activities on the Torkham border and that the local traders had suffered huge financial losses.

Also, the local transporters have expressed grievances against the security officials of both Pakistan and Afghanistan as they were required to swap their vehicles at the zero point for unloading on the opposite side of the border as required as a security arrangement.

They argued that the swapping of the loaded vehicles, the loading and unloading of trade goods and bringing back of empty vehicles consumed a lot of time and it was a major source of delay in the clearance of import and export goods.

Published in Dawn, December 15th, 2020

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