SBP asks banks to loosen payment terms for importers

Our Correspondent
Tuesday, Jan 24, 2023

KARACHI: The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) on Monday announced a one-time facility for import-driven businesses in trouble and instructed commercial banks to process import documents to release the majority of the items caught up at Karachi ports.

In order to facilitate businesses, the SBP withdrew the requirement of prior approval of imports (falling under HS code Chapters, 84, 85 and certain items under HS code Chapter 87) and instead gave a general guidance to the banks to prioritise import of certain essential items like food, pharmaceutical, energy, etc, the SBP said in a statement.

“The business community, including various trade bodies and chambers of commerce, have highlighted that a large number of shipping containers carrying imported goods are stuck up at the ports, due to delays in release of the shipping documents by the banks,” the statement said.

In view of the situation, the central bank has advised commercial banks to provide a one-time facilitation to all those importers, who could either extend their payment terms to 180 days (or beyond) or arrange funds from abroad to settle their pending import payments.

Accordingly, till March 31, 2023, banks have been advised to process and release documents of shipments / goods that have already arrived at a port in Pakistan or have been shipped on or before January 18, 2023.

Further, the SBP has advised commercial banks to educate their customers to inform their banks prior to initiation of any import transaction to avoid any complications in the future. As foreign exchange reserves are rapidly depleting, there is a chronic lack of dollars. As a result, several businesses have shut down because they are unable to import even food, raw materials, machinery, or parts.

At $4.6 billion as of January 13, the central bank's foreign exchange reserves have decreased by $1.2 billion, leaving Pakistan, which is in the midst of a crisis, with hardly a month’s worth of import coverage. Additionally, exports have also been suffering from a lack of raw materials, the government’s control over the exchange rate, a fall in demand, and skyrocketing inflation among Pakistan’s main trading partners.

Businesses across the country have been protesting against the refusal of banks to establish credit letters essential for the clearance of imported cargoes, which have created hurdles in meeting export orders as well. As a result, thousands of containers have been stuck at the ports in Karachi. During the day, Federal Minister for Maritime Affairs Faisal Sabzwari also announced that the government has decided to waive the demurrage and port charges of stranded containers at the country’s ports, which were estimated to be around 8,000.