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U.K. Ban on Air Cargo from Dhaka Could Hurt Garment Exporters

Almost three months after Australia banned air freight from Bangladesh, the United Kingdom has followed suit.

Last Tuesday, the U.K. Department for Transport announced that cargo would not be allowed on direct flights from Dhaka until further notice, following an evaluation of Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport which found that certain international security measures had not been met. Notably, there was a shortage of trained personnel and explosive trace detectors were not operational.

“Airlines carrying cargo between Bangladesh and the U.K. on indirect routes are being asked to ensure it is re-screened before its final leg into the U.K.,” an official statement said last week. “The U.K. government is working with the government of Bangladesh to support them in improving standards for all aspects of aviation security.”

Biman Bangladesh Airlines is the only carrier that flies freight directly to the U.K. on its four weekly passenger flights. According to the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Assocation (BGMEA), a trade association representing the country’s readymade-garment industry, each of those flights carries an average of 25 tons of cargo, most of which is apparel.

“The ban will have a disastrous impact on our exports as the U.K. is a very big market of the E.U.,” BGMEA President Siddiqur Rahman told The Daily Star, noting that the U.K. is the second biggest garment export destination for the country.

British Prime Minister David Cameron wrote a letter to Sheikh Hasina, his Bangladeshi counterpart, warning that direct passenger flights from Dhaka to London could be banned if there isn’t a visible improvement in airport security by Mar. 31. Local media reported that Hasina replied and requested a review of the ban because, if it does happen, the country’s garment exporters will suffer.

Meanwhile, Khorshed Alam Chowdhury has been removed from the role of civil aviation and tourism secretary and Air Vice Marshal M Sanaul Huq has been replaced as chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (Caab).

“The changes in the top two positions were made following intelligence report on the activities of the secretary and the Caab chairman since October last year when the issue of upgrading the security standards of Shahjalal airport came up,” a person familiar with the situation told The Daily Star. “The ban on [Dhaka-London] direct air cargo has a huge political impact and the country’s image has been tarnished abroad.”