The Indian officials are now seeking permission for physical presence in Bangladesh for investigating any customs-related offences, officials say.
They are also seeking information about the assessment of valuation, origin and tariff classification of goods, and for the determination of authenticity of documents used for goods declaration from the customs department.
The Indian customs authority made the proposals in a draft agreement titled ‘Cooperation and mutual assistance in customs matters between the two countries.”
Usually, the Indian customs check the authenticity of exported goods, their value addition, and the authenticity of documents from Bangladesh’s Export Promotion Bureau (EPB).
Apart from the EPB, it wants to get all these information from the Bangladesh Customs by signing the deal.
After receiving the draft of the proposed agreement from India, the customs officials have recently sent it to the ministries and departments concerned seeking their opinions.
Regarding the presence of officials in the territory of another country, the draft said that by staying there the officials would be able to “examine in the offices of the customs administration, documents and any other information relating to the customs offence under investigation and obtain copies thereof.”
They can also be present during any investigation or proceedings conducted by the requested customs administration under its customs legislation, which is relevant to the requesting customs administration.
The draft also noted that the deal signing parties should exchange information with each other whether goods imported or exported to and from their respective territory were lawfully traded or not .
They should also provide the details of the customs procedures adopted in the course of customs clearance of the goods.
The customs should, upon request, maintain surveillance over and provide information on whether goods either in transport or in storage, known to have been used or suspected of being used to commit customs offences, in the territory of the state of each other.
They should also keep close watch on the means of transport, known to have been used or suspected of being used to commit customs offences, in the territory of the state of each other.
The draft also mentioned maintaining of surveillance on persons, known to have committed customs offences or suspected of doing so and premises used for conducting such offences.
“The customs administrations shall provide, either on request or on their own initiative, with information and intelligence on transactions, or acts completed or planned which constitute or appear to constitute a customs offence in the territory of (each other),” it added.
In serious cases, which could involve substantial damage to the economy, public health, public security or any other vital interests, the customs administrations should provide information on their own initiative, the draft mentioned.
For technical cooperation they wanted bilateral cooperation on the exchange of customs officers or experts for advancing the understanding of each other’s customs techniques, and the exchange of professional, scientific and technical data relating to customs legislation and procedures.
NBR member Khondaker Muhammad Aminur Rahman told the FE on Friday the opinion was sought from the offices concerned and no decision was so far taken on the draft.
“We won’t give such a scope,” he said referring to the Indian proposal for the presence of customs officials in each other’s state for investigation.
“We will exchange only information,” Mr Rahman said without elaborating.
Member of the Bangladesh Trade and Tariff Commission (BTTC), Dr Mostafa Abid Khan told the FE many of the matters mentioned in the draft were not the responsibility of the customs authority, rather the EPB was entrusted with those tasks.
“How will the customs give info like valuation, origin, and tariff classification of goods exported from Bangladesh,” he asked and added “This is nothing to do with the customs.”
Mr Khan said Bangladesh should follow only the things permitted by the rules of origin under the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) deal where India is also a party.
“Everything is mentioned in details in the SAFTA rules-what can be done or not,” he said.
Research director of the Centre for Policy Dialogue Dr Khondaker Golam Moazzem told the FE he was “surprised” by the draft agreement on cooperation and mutual assistance in customs matters shared by the Indian side.
“The draft is in no way similar to what India has signed and is effective with countries like the USA, the EU, and Pakistan. The draft, in many cases, added articles and clauses, which are not compatible with the customs cooperation under the WTO trade facilitation agreement,” he said.
He said the provisions for the presence of officials in the territory of the other contracting party and on experts and witnesses indicate the physical presence of officials in each other’s territory for investigation as experts.
“These are highly disrespectful to each other’s authority with regard to the process of investigation, integrity, and authenticity of information to be shared with each other,” Mr Moazzem added.
Thus, the draft needs to be compatible with the WTO customs cooperation framework under the trade facilitation agreement.
Mr Moazzem said Bangladesh and India both ratified the WTO trade facilitation agreement, which came into force in 2017.
Being a least developed country, Bangladesh is currently implementing category-A related activities of the trade facilitation agreement.
Customs cooperation is an issue of category-B where Bangladesh needs additional time.
“Thus, Bangladesh should take gradual steps to comply with all obligations related to category-A before targeting the category-B-related activities of the trade facilitation agreement,” he said.
“Bangladesh needs more institutional and administrative capacity to go for customs cooperation with other countries even under the framework of the WTO trade facilitation agreement,” Mr Moazzem added.