Exports on hold: Govt slow to react to costly transporters’ strike

Business community says billions have been lost already.

Farhan Zaheer December 13, 2012

KARACHI: Exporters are facing a nightmare after transporters launched a countrywide strike a week ago, with the country’s ports jammed with 25,000 containers waiting for trucks.

Exporters of perishable items in particular warned that their products will either become useless, or their orders will be cancelled, if they fail to meet their deadlines.

Wednesday was a busy day for Karachi’s leading exporters – arranging press conferences to explain the catastrophic consequences of the strike – and pointing fingers toward the government for inaction and apparently being unaware of the gravity of the issue, which is critical to the economy.

However, after the ruckus created by the business community, the cabinet finally constituted a two-member committee on Wednesday to negotiate with the transporters. The committee includes Federal Minister for Ports and Shipping, Babar Khan Ghauri.

Ghulam Yaseen Khan, chairperson of the United Goods Transporters Alliance (the representative association of countrywide transporters), told The Express Tribune that they were to meet the committee on Wednesday night.

“The government is now listening to us, which is appreciable,” he said, “I hope the committee will come up with some solutions to end this countrywide strike.”

Khan added that transporters were protesting because of a lack of security on highways, and that their problem was with the National Highway Authority (NHA) and Motorway Police.

“If the government does not accept our legitimate demands, we will stage a sit-in at Port Qasim, a leading port of the country,” he added.

The Motorway Police, however, responsible for regulating traffic on Pakistan’s highways, say that the transporters’ demands are illegitimate. “The transporters are blackmailing the government,” spokesperson Muhammad Javed Chaudhary told The Express Tribune, adding, “They are agitating because we are enforcing motorway laws, especially on the illegal practice of overloading heavy vehicles.”

When asked why the government did not take up this issue for over a week, he replied that they were professionals and were just following highway laws. “If we do not stop these prevalent illegal practices, this overloading will continue to damage our highways constructed with hard-earned taxpayers’ money,” he added.

A representative of a leading truck maker, requesting anonymity, said that Pakistani transporters do indulge in overloading which actually damages the highways.

Meanwhile, Pakistan Hosiery Manufacturers and Exporters Association Chairman Jawed Bilwani, one of the representatives of nine leading export associations, said during a press conference on Wednesday that the government does not realise the gravity of situation.

December is an important month because the export of textile goods worth billions to Europe and the US takes place over Christmas and the New Year, Bilwani said, adding that it is believed exports worth Rs100 billion (over $1 billion) have been stuck at ports. In the meanwhile, factories are running out of raw materials because of the strike, he explained.

All Pakistan Fruit and Vegetable Exporters, Importers and Merchants Association Chairperson Waheed Ahmed said that the strike has caused losses worth billions of rupees to its members.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 13th, 2012.

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