The European Union has slapped new security screening on imports from Bangladesh, a move that is likely to make it costlier for businesses in the South Asian country to sell products to EU nations.
Just over half of Bangladeshi exports go to the European bloc, accounting for $18.68 billion in revenues during the last fiscal year. Those shipments, by air or sea, will now have to be screened by bomb-detecting dogs and devices.
Bangladesh has none of these facilities, so cargo will have to be routed through a third country where security screening is possible.
The move makes Bangladesh the 13th country designated as "-high risk" for EU commerce. It was unexpected, according to Bangladeshi government officials, who said they were given no explanation when informed Monday of the change. The EU ambassador's office in Dhaka did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Last year, Britain, Germany and Australia banned direct cargo shipments from Dhaka's international airport, citing its poor security system.
The country has suffered a string of deadly attacks in recent years claimed by extremists targeting perceived enemies of Islam, including bloggers, rights activists, atheists, religious minorities and foreigners. The government has blamed the attacks on home-grown extremists bent on re-establishing Islamic rule in the secular nation.
The government has offered little comment about the EU move. But Civil Aviation and Tourism Minister Rashed Khan Menon criticized Brussels for delivering the news as a surprise, and said the government would work quickly to establish an adequate screening mechanism in the country. But getting everything in place could take months.
Business leaders are worried about the possible delays in screening, when they are already scrambling to fulfill large orders on short notice despite frequent power outages that shut operations down.
Some air shipments from Bangladesh are already being routed through Dubai, Istanbul or Doha for screening, and some sea shipments are going through Colombo or Singapore.
"Fresh screening will take at least 10 days, at a time when we struggle to ship goods timely for many reasons," said Mir Mobasher Ali, who exports about $50 million in garments to Europe and Canada every year. "We need to count extra amount for the screening in a third country. That's disastrous for us."
Siddiqur Rahman, president of the Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters' Association, representing 70 percent of the textiles industry, also described the move as "disastrous." During fiscal 2015-16, the garment industry exported $17.15 billion in goods to the EU — 60 percent of the industry's exports.