Even after trade registration, a food importer must secure further approval from a number of government agencies including the Bangladesh Food Safety Authority and the Ministry of Commerce, before any goods can be imported.
The importer then has to jump through several hoops, visit multiple departments concerned and must open a letter of credit from a bank, before unloading a single crate of imported goods.
Aside from the financial burden associated with all that running around, the whole approval process can take up to 20 working days. The export process also has a similar level of complexity.
With the aim to further ease and speed up the process of export and import, the government has taken the initiative to launch the National Single Window project by 2021. A total of 39 ministries, government agencies and organizations will come together under the leadership of the National Board of Revenue.
The initiative will allow importers and exporters the ease of access to perform necessary tasks such as getting trade registrations, attaining export-import permits, opening letters of credit, securing permission to unload imported goods and paying taxes, everything under one roof.
A dedicated office will handle all these tasks, eliminating the need for traders to visit dozens of other offices.
"National Single Window - set to be implemented by 2021 - will save the companies a lot of money. The importer and exporters will also be able to speed up there schedule fourfold," said project director and revenue board member of customs modernization Dr Khandaker Aminur Rahman.
He added that the project will introduce an automated and integrated task processing system.
"The business community will no longer have to run from one office to another, as a dedicated office will offer all related services," Dr Khandaker told The Business Standard.
Providing further details, he said, "A total of 39 ministries and government agencies will work together under the project, which began back in 2018. There is also an initiative to bring the business community under the initiative.
"The process is on to include ten more organizations under the project, including the PwC Bangladesh, the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce & Industries and the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association."
Dr Khandaker revealed that the project still needs to adopt a legal framework and a meeting with all stakeholders has been scheduled next Sunday to discuss the matter.
"We are optimistic that a legal framework outline of the project will take shape in the meeting," he added.
The World Bank is supporting the National Board of Revenue with the National Single Window project, which has a budget of $74.1 million or Tk625 crore.
Sources from the revenue board said the project will allow traders to use a dedicated online software to connect to different ministries and agencies, and help them complete all processes related to import and export in the shortest possible time.
Dr Khandaker pointed out that the software will tremendously benefit the business community and prevent culprits from evading taxes by importing goods through false declaration.
The United Nations Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business made the National Single Window software.
The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe recommended the implementation of the system back in 2004. According to a World Bank report published in 2012 titled "Trading Across Borders," a total of 69 countries implemented the system as yet.
Among The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Brunei, Singapore and Thailand have adopted the system.
The business community is optimistic that the implementation of the National Single Window project will become a milestone for ease of doing business in Bangladesh.
"The project will boost cross border businesses and it should be implemented as soon as possible," said Shafiul Islam, former president of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce & Industries.