Apparel makers, EPB in service charge row

SYFUL ISLAM | Published: September 19, 2020
The country’s apparel makers are not in agreement with the Export Promotion Bureau (EPB) over the payment of service charges to the latter for verification of documents under the registered exporter (REX) system of the European Union.

Under the REX system, the exporters themselves issue the statements on the origin of each consignment of goods to be exported to the EU with duty-free facility, which in the past the EPB had been doing.

Before that the exporters need to be registered with the EU database through the EPB.

Before the introduction of REX system in Bangladesh last year, the ministry of commerce at a meeting had decided that the registered exporters will pay Tk 375 to the EPB against each consignment of goods to be exported to the EU.

In the meeting, representative of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) agreed to pay the fee while the representative of Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA) refused.

At the implementation stage, according to EPB officials, almost none of the apparel exporters, however, are paying the fees.

The BKMEA has also recently written to commerce minister Tipu Munshi expressing reservation about making the payment terming it ‘illogical’.

When the commerce ministry sought opinion on this issue, the EPB replied that the bureau has to preserve statements on origin and all other documents of each consignment in the database after required verification for future use.

Presently the work is done manually and steps have been taken to develop software for their preservation in the data server.

The EPB said once the platform is developed they will have to engage increased manpower, which will raise costs.

EPB vice chairman AHM Ahasan told the FE on Friday their cost involvement in the past was much higher and the ministry itself has fixed the fee under REX system in consultation with the stakeholders.

As a competent authority under REX system, the EPB has some responsibility, including verification of the documents if any disputes arise, which have a significant cost involvement, he said.

“We have to preserve all the documents, either in soft form or hard copy, which the exporters themselves now issue,” he said adding, now the ministry will again decide on it through stakeholders’ consultation.

BKMEA first vice president Mohammad Hatem told the FE on Friday there is no logic for the EPB to ask for Tk 375 against each consignment of goods exported “as they have no involvement in the process”.

He said once the total responsibility of GSP certificate issuance had been with the EPB, but it is no more with them.

“We were paying Tk 375 then to the EPB. Now they are only responsible for monitoring and preserving documents. Why should we pay them same fees now?” he asked.

“What we can pay is between Tk 50 and Tk 100 once they develop software to preserve the documents,” Hatem said adding before software development the EPB cannot ask for the fees.

BGMEA president Dr Rubana Huq did not respond despite repeated requests for a comment on this issue.

However, BGMEA director Shahidul Haque Mukul who attended a meeting on this issue said he agreed on the fee as the EPB officials were arguing that their earnings will fall significantly unless a fee is paid.

He said he agreed to pay Tk 100 for each consignment as the EPB has no cost involvement apart from keeping a record in files.

The BGMEA president will discuss the issue with commerce minister and resolve the dispute, said Mr Mukul.