Those who kept goods moving during Covid deserve praise

India’s merchandise trade balance went into a surplus of about $790 million in June, for the first time in 18 years, on the back of better-than-expected exports and a steep fall in imports. Exports did better than previous months as India and many other countries relaxed the lockdowns easing supply chain bottlenecks. Improved money supply helped revive the global demand. However, the demand in the domestic economy did not pick up enough.

The positive growth in exports came from farm and plantation products such as oil seeds, oil meals, rice, spices, other cereals, fruits & vegetables, cereal preparations, and miscellaneous processed items, tobacco and coffee. Iron ore recorded 63 per cent export growth over June 2019. In the manufacturing sector, only the drugs and pharmaceuticals sector posted growth. Many other sectors posted lower negative export growth figures.

Responding to June export figures, the president of Federation of Indian Export Organisations lauded the efforts of the exporters, who have worked exceptionally hard to recover from the lockdown setback so quickly, and reach such levels.  He said the June data that depicts a double-digit decline in exports by 12.41 per cent at $21.91 billion has to be seen in the context of a whopping decline of 60 per cent in April and 35 per cent in May.

Many factors, besides revival in global demand, have contributed to improved exports performance. Soon after the initial complete lockdown in March, the government allowed manufacturers of export goods to commence operations. The factories were running short of manpower but many workers who came in put in extra hours to ramp up production.

The Centre categorised movement of import and export cargo as essential service. So, the transport operators started their operations but enough drivers, many of them migrant workers, did not report for work. The available drivers worked extra shifts to see that cargo movement did not grind to a halt.

The Customs brokers, agents of shipping lines, airlines etc. and port operators had great difficulties commencing their operations, as few employees turned up. They made arrangements for their employees to work from home or go to work place or Customs houses or the docks, whenever necessary. Their employees also responded well to the demands of the situation and kept the Customs clearance and movement of cargo going at a fair pace.

The Customs kept up round the clock clearance through the lockdown period and expanded the scope of e-Sanchit programme, a facility to upload digitally signed licences, permits, certificates, or other authorisations for clearance by other government agencies at all locations across India. The Customs introduced self-registration of goods by importers/exporters, registration of authorised dealer code and bank account details, automatic debit of bond after assessment, automated clearances of bills of entry and shipping bills, digitisation of Customs documents, paperless clearance, and faceless assessment.

They started sending by email digital PDF ‘Out of-Charge’ (OOC) copy of the Bill of Entry and e-gatepass and PDF version of the final ‘Let Export Order’ copy of the shipping bill and e-gatepass to the Customs Brokers and importers/exporters. Last week, Turant Suvidha Kendras were established at all Customs locations to help the importers, exporters and Customs Brokers. These unsung heroes who have braved the hazards of lockdown and the risks of getting infected and kept the goods moving deserve our appreciation.


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