The Cochin Customs Brokers’ Association (CCBA) has sent a letter to the Chief Minister of Kerala Pinarayi Vijayan seeking guidelines to undertake export/import clearance under the current lockdown period at Cochin Port.
Like any other part of the country, most of the factories are closed down and inter-state transportation is disrupted due to the 21-day nationwide lockdown. Customs Brokers (CBs) have also closed all offices and decided to undertake clearance activities only of essential commodities, viz. pharmaceuticals, medical equipment, and personal protective equipment and food items required to be distributed in the state. Cochin Port Trust also moved to the need of the hour by issuing suitable trade notices on March 17, 21 and 23 dates to avoid community outbreak of the pandemic in the Port Trust area in Willingdon Island.
In the letter, Alan Jose, President, CCBA and Vice Chairman, Federation of Freight Forwarders’ Associations in India (FFFAI), sought clarifications from the CM on the following:
- Possessing ID Cards of ports, customs or ICTT (DP World), and an authorisation letter from CBs office adequate for CBs staff to travel around freely?
- Other employees, drivers, etc. of CBs have to visit or contact various offices; customs, port, CFSs, ICTT, PQ, FSSAI, etc. for collecting various documents or certificates. Will relaxation in travelling be given to them by local authorities? What document should they produce for free movement in and around the state?
- If the staff members are travelling, they are more susceptible to the COVID-19 infection as they are coming into contact with many people. Will government and private offices, CFSs, port terminals, etc. take ample precautionary measures to protect the personnel entering their premises?
“We wish to point out that for undertaking the export/import clearance work, it is imperative that the associated government offices and private companies also function in order to complete the processing of the EXIM documentation, drawing and testing of sample and issue of test results, certificates, etc. Our staff would have to personally visit all or most of these places to get our work done,” Jose added.
In Kochi, CFSs, Empty Container Yards, DP World Terminal, Customs Documentation Center, etc. are all situated within 1 km radius. “These places pose the potential threat of becoming COVID-19 hotspot,” Jose said, adding that CBs staff would be travelling and interacting with various people in the whole logistics chain, and the current circumstances pose a major threat to their health and also to other people who have transactions with them.
As part of the precautionary measures, Cochin Port also issued a Circular, restricting the movement in Willingdon Island. CBs staff now require special permission letter from their employer along with respective ID cards to enter into the Island offices during the lockdown period.
Further, Jose said that the subsequent notifications issued by the Central and State governments are contradictory to one another; the Ministry of Shipping has notified to continue normal operations of ports and customs and then continue clearance activities of the cargo, general as well as essential.
Keeping this in mind, CCBA had an Extraordinary General Meeting through video conferencing on March 31 and a resolution was passed unanimously to refrain from normal work, but to take best efforts in clearing the essential cargoes and to file the documents in Customs for all general cargoes upon receipt of original documents from the exporter or importers as obligated under Customs Brokers Licencing Regulations. However, based on the instructions from the Commissioner of Customs, we had withdrawn the same.
Jose added that a clear understanding of ‘essential goods’ and ‘non-essential goods’ meant by the center in issuing the circular was given by Special Secretary (Logistics) N Sivasailam during the virtual conference organised by the PHD Chamber of Commerce, wherein Sivasailam stated that permission granted for movement of non-essential goods is only to support the manufacturing and packaging of essential goods which was explained with a classic example of milk and plastic granules