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LAHORE, Pakistan — The transport of goods and containers is at a standstill in Pakistan as the countrywide strike called by the transporters associations stretched to its 11th day on Wednesday.
So far, the business community estimates losses of $700 million due to the action and mills have missed their second weekly vessels. Thousands of trucks carrying export cargo are stuck on highways across the country. Imported raw material delays are also affecting mills’ production. Similarly, cotton from farmers in rural areas is not reaching ginning mills.
The smell of rotten fruits and vegetables that were bound for ships permeates the air, while drivers sit idly in trucks, stranded on highways, waiting for the National Highway Authority and the National Highways & Motorways Police on one side and the Transporters Association and the United Goods Transporters Alliance representatives on the other to resolve the standoff.
If demands are not met by Thursday, All Pakistan Oil Tankers Owners Association chairman Mir Muhammad Yousuf Shahwani said the organization will join the strike, further crippling the industry’s and country’s ability to move goods. It’s also more problems for an industry that saw a devastating fire in September in a Karachi factory that killed 264 workers, and a smaller blaze in a show factory in Lahore in which 25 perished.
Haji Muhammad Tariq Nabeel Mehmood, general secretary of the Transporters Association (Punjab) and owner of trucking company Pak Afghan Goods, said work at the Port Qasim in Karachi has come to a stop, with no containers being moved in or out. No one from the government has stepped forward to negotiate with the transporters. There are reports that the inspector general of motorways is set to meet with their representatives.
The truckers’ demands of the government include addressing issues such as road security that has seen rampant highway robberies, kidnapping of drivers and extortion, particularly in Sindh province, as well as what they feel are unfair load limits and high penalties for overloading and speeding.
Export shipments from Punjab are stuck in Sukkur and Sindh, and are not being allowed into Karachi, the port city, said Najeeb Malik, managing director of Master Textiles in Lahore. Cotton and polyester shipments into the country are also stuck at the port.
“We have not spoken to importers as yet because we have signed contracts,” and in the garment business, he said, “especially during the Christmas season, even a one-week delay is unacceptable. Every day we are told that the situation will be resolved.
“Additionally, we get 14 days to pick up containers from the port, transport them to our factories in Lahore, a three-day journey one way, and return them back before damages are charged,” he said. “There are only three days left before we have to start paying these. APTMA [All Pakistan Textile Mills Association] has not done anything about this.”
Ahsan Bashir, chairman of APTMA, said, “The textile industry is export-oriented and the textile goods meant for export have been held stranded. The industry is also unable to procure raw materials as the supply chain of the textile industry was under pressure.”
He also requested the customs authority to waive off demurrage of containers stranded at the port to help the industry.
U.S. apparel and textile imports from Pakistan fell 4.8 percent to 2.4 billion square meter equivalents for the year ending Oct. 31, according to the Commerce Department. The value of the combined shipments fell 12 percent to $2.9 billion.
Shaukat Ali, senior manager shipping at Matrix, a textile buying house in Lahore, said since brands contract the freight forwarders, who have apprised them of the situation, importers are so far being understanding.