Bangladesh Scrambles to Meet EU Security Directive for Air Cargo

Kamran Reza Chowdhury
170609-BD-cargo-620.jpg Bangladeshi security personnel frisk a traveler at a checkpoint at the entrance to Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport in Dhaka, following a suicide bomb attack at a nearby military camp, March 17, 2017.

Bangladesh authorities are following a European Union directive that all air cargo destined to the EU from the South Asian country be screened extensively for explosives and that a sophisticated detector be installed for this task at Dhaka’s main airport.

The detector is expected to be up and running within two months at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport, the only airport in Bangladesh that operates cargo flights to EU countries, the country’s civilian aviation minister said.

The aviation hub is responsible for handling products valued at about U.S. $2 billion (161.5 billion taka) of the total $19 billion (1.5 trillion taka) exported annually to those countries, he said.

“According to the E.U. rule, the civil aviation authority has already started the procedure to install an explosive detection system at the airport. It will be operational, maximum, by the first week of August,” Minister Rashed Khan Menon told BenarNews on Friday.

“As an interim measure, we have for the first time deployed a special dog squad to detect explosives inside goods and planes,” Menon said, adding that the EU decision, effective June 1, came at short notice.

Until the detection system is approved by the EU, products would have to be sent to approved countries such as Dubai, Turkey or Saudi Arabia to be screened before being sent on to their European destination, he said.

A spokesman for the EU mission in Dhaka, who requested anonymity, told BenarNews that the requirement was applicable for cargo transported by air only.

“It is the responsibility of the flight operators to ensure that the planes entering EU member states carry no explosives,” the spokesman said.

The decision makes Bangladesh the 13th country designated as “high risk” for EU commerce, the Associated Press reported. Additionally, three countries had already banned direct cargo flights from Bangladesh over fears of explosives.

Australia imposed a preemptive ban on direct cargo planes from Dhaka in December 2015, Germany and Britain followed in January 2016 and March 2016, respectively. Menon said the government appointed Red Line, a British company, to upgrade the security at the airport following Britain’s refusal to allow direct cargo flights from Dhaka.

Meanwhile, Bangladesh Shipping Minister Shajahan Khan told BenarNews that cargo sent by sea is checked for explosives or other harmful items before leaving port.

“The port authorities follow international standards in shipping,” he said. About 90 percent of Bangladesh’s $34 billion (2.7 trillion taka) in exports are transported by sea.

BGMEA responds

Apparel accounts for about 81 percent of Bangladesh’s total exports to the EU.

“The new additional security screening rule is a big blow to us because it will hurt our external image as a secured and stable import destination,” Siddiqur Rahman, president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), told BenarNews on Friday.

The BGMAE president said the ruling would hurt even though 90 percent of Bangladesh’s ready-made garment (RMG) products were dispatched by sea.

“We ship only 10 percent of our consignments by air. We use air when we have time constraints. This new rule will force the airlines to check the cargo flights in a third country. This means we have to spend more time and money,” Rahman said.

Analysts concerned

Hampering delivery of 10 percent of RMG exports in the EU poses a big problem for Bangladesh, according to Nazneen Ahmed, a senior research fellow of the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies, an autonomous organization under the finance ministry.

Additionally, the new security screening rule will hurt exporters of perishable items such as vegetables, fruits, fish, meat and live items.

“The perishable items are sent via air; these account 1 percent of our total export (U.S. $340 million),” Ahmed told BenarNews. “Farmers and people within the export chain will be hurt economically.

“We cannot afford these multi-faceted consequences. The government should immediately address the security concerns of the EU and other western countries,” she said.

Sakhawat Hossain, a retired brigadier general and security analyst, told BenarNews that Hazrat Shahjalal airport lacks a security system that meets international standards.

“Look, the EU has every reason to suspect that explosives can secretly be planted inside planes flying from Dhaka. Our airport is still mal-administered; the trade union leaders and other influential people can enter without proper security screening,” he said.

“As we send products to them, we have to abide by their rules,” he said, adding that militant attacks on foreigners and minorities over the last two years were a major concern for the Americans and Europeans.

He said global security experts questioned Bangladesh’s capacity to maintain security to international standards.

“We have to address the concerns raised by the EU and other western countries through upgrading the security regime at the airport and training our personnel,” Hossain said.

Menon said the government already had taken measures to upgrade the security standard of Dhaka airport.

“We will do more,” he said.


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