Consignments from China piling up at ports as customs tightens

Consignments originating from China are being subjected to thorough scrutiny at ports and airports, leading to huge holdups and delays in clearing of goods ranging from electronics to pharmaceuticals. Customs officials across the country are conducting detailed examinations and rechecking all shipments from China, even though there was no official intimation on the exercise, sources told. Earlier, random testing used to be carried out on the containers.

Sources said the backlog at ports and airports seems to be so huge that even freight forwarding companies like Fedex and DHL have stopped taking fresh orders for export consignments on Wednesday. However this could not be verified till the time of going to press.

For instance, a situation of shipments being held up is being reported by one of the busiest and largest ports, Nhava Sheva, which handles cargo in the western region.

“No orders, verbal or written, have been issued to any port by customs or by the Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs (CBIC) to bar or not to accept containers from China. If, in some cases, some containers are held up, then they are for the intelligence input and, on the basis of risk assessment, as a routine exercise,” a senior tax department official in Delhi said.

The ‘scrutiny’ is being attributed to ‘intelligence’ received bout illegal imports of narcotics at Chennai port a few days back. Officials are seeking stricter compliance and more documentation from importers, which is not a normal routine procedure, a Chennai-based company said.

A few shipments of pharmaceuticals were cleared on Wednesday, after a detailed investigation and scrutiny of documentation at Chennai, while the bigger containers of other commodities and goods are still held up. “For the pharma sector, the situation seemed to be relatively better on Wednesday, and some cargo was cleared after stringent checks. This was after the issue was discussed with senior government officials,” Dinesh Dua, chairman, Pharmaceuticals Export Promotion Council of India told.

With major shipments stuck at ports and airports, pharma industry pressed the panic button. Critical raw materials and bulk drugs are imported from China, with the country accounting for nearly 70% of API (active pharmaceutical imports),  while uncertain cases, the dependence is around 90%.

Delays or hold ups at ports and airports even for a few days lead to chaos in industry circles, and confusion among cargo
handling agents, experts say.