Commerce ministry to tackle container crisis and trade delays

Government departments need to negotiate to solve logistics problems at Yangon Port as soon as possible, while a Trade Facilitation Committee – set up under the previous government – will be fully implemented as part of an effort to boost exports, minister for Commerce U Than Myint told The Myanmar Times.

The number of shipping containers arriving at Yangon Port has risen sharply in recent years, leading to delays in container delivery, port clearance and a shortage of container space, according to the Ministry of Commerce.

A more recent spike has seen the number of containers arriving at the port has increased by around 36pc since Myanmar’s New Year festival last month, while the number leaving the port has fallen by around 3pc according to the Ministry of Commerce.

Myanmar imports far more goods than it exports, which results in a trade deficit and a surfeit of empty containers that can be bought second-hand in Yangon for very little money.

Sources in the auto, leasing and logistics industries – which depend on vehicles imported through Yangon Port – complain about customs opening hours, onerous administrative procedures and general delays.

“This is a logistics problem,” said U Than Myint. “There are too many containers. By discussing this problem with representatives from respective ministries and our trade promotion committee, local authorities, port authorities, port owners and container agencies, we will find out a quick solution to fix this problem.”

A quick solution could prove elusive, however. Leasing and logistics industry figures have said a proper fix would require deep-water ports with more container space. There is often a long queue of ships waiting outside Yangon Port unable to dock and unload, said one.

During the Thingyan holidays in April, cargo was stuck for more than 10 days at the mouth of Yangon River because local container transports were unable to handle the inflow, leading to overdue payment of port fees and shipping costs for container shipping companies, according to the Ministry of Commerce.

But the port is also beset by administrative issues. These include delays during the customs inspection process, partly caused by port authorities who are often unable to issue the required documents to incoming containers on time, the ministry said. This in turn causes payment issues for export and import firms.

Trader U Nay Lin Zin said exporters and importers have to contact multiple government departments for permit documents, and some have to seek signatures from the Nay Pyi Taw Commercial Department.

Foreign currency payments for exports, which are often done through state-owned lenders Myanma Foreign Trade Bank and Myanma Investment and Commercial Bank, can be subjected to days-long delays, he added.

So far the government has failed to make life easier for Myanmar’s traders, said U Nay Lin Zin. But the Ministry of Commerce is moving forward with a Trade Facilitation Committee (TFC) as part of an effort to boost exports and battle Myanmar’s persistent trade deficit.

U Than Myint told The Myanmar Times the priority was to increase export products, and that a TFC would help with this.

As part of the revamp the ministry will avoid creating a series of unhelpful sub-committees, and focus on making sure the TFC can implement its trade policies, he said.

The committee will look to amend policies and laws to avoid unnecessary costs for traders during the loading, unloading and cargo storage processes at the port, he said. Improving market opportunities and the documentation requirements was also a priority, he added.

“Traders have said we have to change some procedures,” he said. “Our traders face higher costs [than those in other countries] and so face problems. To get long–term export growth we need to improve things.”

Source: The Myanmar Times

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