Port of Salalah earns global recognition

MUSCAT: A recent study released by the US-based JOC Group, which includes the Journal of Commerce, and the PIERs data service, has declared the port of Salalah as the sixth top trans-shipment port globally and 18th top port globally. According to the study, the port has also been successful in bagging a number of high positions in various categories in the Europe/Middle East/Africa geographic class.

The report on port productivity states that in the Europe/Middle East/Africa geography, the Port of Salalah has been ranked third top port and seventh among top container terminals, placing the Sultanate of Oman next to the United Arab Emirates and underlining Salalah’s regional position among the busiest and most influential ports of trade.

“It’s important for all of our employees, customers, government partners and stakeholders to see tangible results and evidence that Port of Salalah is a world-class port that invests in its people, productivity and especially service. We are expressly proud of our employees, particularly those operating the machinery at the terminals and those who have grown with the port since its inception 15 years ago, and who have gone the extra mile to improve safety, customer service and efficiency,” said Ahmed Akaak, acting-CEO of Port of Salalah.

Two years back, the Port of Salalah launched a company-wide Process Excellence (PEX) culture. This has tracked and improved productivity measurements around machinery and operation turnaround and has led to upgrades in productivity and efficiency.

Berth and crane productivity have increased their performance by double digits this year, while truck and gate turnaround times have been slashed in half, among other positive developments. Also, earlier this year the Port of Salalah has commenced container terminal gate procedures on Fridays at no additional cost to customers in order to improve services for local businesses.

Despite these successes, the Port has always been busy owing to its strategic location aside the major Asia-Europe shipping trade lane and equidistant to the fast growth markets of Eastern Africa, Indian subcontinent, the Arabian Gulf and its foundation as a joint-venture investment between the Government of Oman and APM Terminals, one of the world’s leading port operating groups.

The JOC study also featured a number of APM Terminals ports rankings in leading positions, including APM Terminals Yokohama (Japan) which held the number one position globally in productivity at 150 moves per hour (mph) while handling 875,000 TEUs in 2012. In comparison, the Port of Salalah achieved a productivity of 72 mph while handling 3.62 million TEUs in 2012.

APM Terminals Rotterdam, one of the busiest terminals in Europe, handling 2.5 million TEUs in 2012, ranked 14th globally with 92 mph and first in the Europe/Middle East/Africa top terminals category. APM Terminals Mumbai, India’s busiest container terminal in 2012 with 1.96 million TEUs handled, ranked 6th globally overall, while in the Americas geographic region, APM Terminals Port Elizabeth, ranked second with 82 mph having terminal handled 1.1 million TEUs in 2012.

In the attempt to finalize the findings of the report, the JOC Group spent over five years collecting and analysing new data from 600 terminals at 400 ports and 17 global shipping lines.

Port Qasim to have 100,000 barrels Trans Asia Oil Refinery

KARACHI: Trans Asia Refinery Ltd (TRL), located at Port Qasim, has declared its “total commitment” to building the most complex refinery in Pakistan, producing more than 100,000 barrels a day and 4 million tonnes of petroleum products every year.

In a major boost to the country’s economy, TRL signaled the end of previous delays with an undertaking that “the investors have decided to push the project forward in the interests of all parties and the people of Pakistan”.

TRL’s determination to see the project through to completion is demonstrated by two important initiatives announced recently. First is the appointment of Descon to undertake a complete “health check” inspection of the TRL refining equipment. The second is a newly-completed restructuring of TRL management to ensure the project proceeds with all possible haste.

Sultan Al. Ghurair, the new CEO of TRL, said he was “delighted to have Descon on board in order to develop the project further”. Descon is the leading Engineering and Construction company of Pakistan. The company said that, since the refinery had been delayed for some time, they “will perform a health check of critical equipment before the EPC contractor is finalised”.

The TRL project is a direct investment of Al-Ghurair Investment LLC, a UAE-based family conglomerate and one of the most diverse industrial groups in the Middle East. As the majority shareholder, Al Ghurair will play an important role in the future supply of fuel to the nation of Pakistan.

When completed, the TRL Refinery will annually produce 80,000 tonnes of LPG, 455,000 tonnes of Naphtha, 410,000 tonnes of Motor Gasoline, 422,000 tonnes of Jet Fuel, 1,000,000 tonnes of Gas Oil – from which 630,000 tonnes will be treated as Diesel – 1,050,000 tonnes of Fuel Oil and 200,000 tonnes of Bitumen. All the products of the refinery are in high demand in Pakistan.

The TRL Refinery will create at least 350 direct jobs and several thousand indirect job opportunities for Pakistani workers. CEO Sultan Al Ghurair said: “Our parent company and major shareholder, Al Ghurair Investment LLC, has always created long-lasting relationships – and TRL is committed to carrying on that tradition. Al Ghurair looks forward to playing a part in the future prosperity of Pakistan and its people – and the TRL Refinery is proof of that commitment”.

Mughalpura Dry Port road in shambles


Staff Reporter

LAHORE: Despite the fact that the government earns billions of rupees revenue from the Lahore Dry Port, the important over 200-metre long road leading to the main entrance of the Port has been left unpaved, creating problems for movement of vehicles, for the last several years.

The broken road of the dry port causes serious inconvenience for the visitors and also led to many accidents. At least 20 to 25 containers of 20 to 40 feet length enter and leave the port daily.

“Due to the dilapidated and bad condition of the road, the containers often meet with serious mishaps,” a customs agent said.

He said that when rainy season starts the situation gets even worse as the ratio of containers’ accidents goes up but no one is there to address this grave problem.

“Most of the times, goods and articles suffer major damages, causing millions of rupees loss to the importers,” he said.

“Being the custodian of the port, the responsibility of building the road and providing basic infrastructure lies with the Railways, and the Customs Department has nothing to do with the issue. The Railways has been earning good revenue from the port but it is not ready to invest in the construction of dry port’s road,” Customs Agents Association President Agha Iftikhar said.

A Railways official speaking on the condition of anonymity said that financial position of the Railways is an open secret, the department is not able to run trains and in these conditions the Railways has no funds to undertake repair works at the Dry Port.

Customs House Nabha Road gets a face-lift

M. Jehangir

LAHORE: The Customs House Nabha Road, a four-storey building and hub of all customs related activities, has been given a new face-lift by renovation work done by NESPAK.

NESPAK A&P Division Lahore completed renovation of the Customs House Nabha Road, having covered area of 9,006 sqm. The renovation work included documentation and assessment of the existing building, detailed design, tender documentation and construction of this Rs 189 million project, awarded by the Federal Board of Revenue, Islamabad.

According to NESPAK, the interior spaces were planned keeping in view the structural constraints of the building. False ceilings were designed to cater to air-conditioning and lighting needs. Most modern and easy to maintain finishes were proposed in the interior spaces. The external facade was given a contemporary face-lift by adding structural features like parapets and entrance porticos. The site planning was done keeping in view the location of existing trees and storm water drainage issues. Parking sheds were also designed for cars and motorcycles.

The Customs House Nabha Road is administrating the working of its subordinate offices at the Allama Iqbal International Airport, Wagha Border, Dry Port at Baghbanpura and Thokar Niaz Baig.

The major departments operating at the Customs House include Collector of Customs, Model Customs Collectorate, Appraisement, Preventive, Collector of Appeal, Directorate of Post Clearance Audit (PCA) and Adjudication.

All of the departments work under the Customs Act 1969. Collector of Customs collects customs duties, Appraisement assesses customs duties, Preventive looks after import and export traffic at airport and dry ports, Collectorate of Appeals entertains high profile cases which are challenged within three months, PCA conducts internal audit while adjudication deals with goods and articles including confiscated non-duty paid vehicles.

The Lahore Customs House is run by a Chief Collector along with a collector, an additional collector, deputy collectors, assistant collectors, superintendents, deputy superintendents, inspectors, hawaldars, constables, peons and sweepers.

As many as 250 to 300 staff is working at the Customs House to control operations of its sub-offices including airport, dry ports in Lahore while Faisalabad and Multan have nothing to do with the Lahore Customs House, however, both Faislabad and Multan customs offices report to the Chief Collector in Lahore.

The lower staff including drivers, peons and constables are facing problem of residence. “We spend a big part of our salaries on rented houses and it becomes impossible for us to discharge our other obligations in a meager income paid by the government. The government should establish housing colonies for the lower staff like the one for the officers,” a customs constable said.

The Customs House Nabha Road is located in an old building. The construction of the Customs House was started in 1958 and the building was inaugurated by the then Collector Ejaz Elahi Malik in 1961.

The Customs House has immense importance as it adds a big chunk of revenue to the national exchequer by collecting customs duties and controlling the movement of goods and articles.

The building due to extensive wears and tears had lost its grandeur. The renovation work of the Lahore Customs House building was completed during the first month of the current year and inaugurated by former FBR Chairman and Secretary Revenue Division Ali Arshad Hakeem.

Karachi International Container Terminal a facility par excellence


KARACHI: The Karachi International Container Terminal (KICT), the country’s one of the leading container terminal operators, has been operating since 1998. It is located within the Karachi Port covering a total area of 26.03 hectares. The KICT has five berths equipped with modern container-handling equipment and each berth is 973 metres in length. Nine container quay cranes are fully operational at the KICT for offloading the containers. It has also 29 rubber tyred gantry cranes and six forklifts. The KICT has eight empty handlers and 10 reach stackers. It also contains 58-yard tractors, 75-yard chassis and 528 reefer plugs.

The KICT is a member of the Hutchison Port Holdings (HPH) Group, a subsidiary of the multinational corporation the Hutchison Whampoa Limited (HWL), which is the world’s leading port investor, developer and operator.

One of the officials at the KICT told Customs Today that they are committed to enhance the satisfaction of customers by providing reliable, effective and safe terminal operations. He said the KICT administration, with its continuous efforts and efficiency in services at all levels, has placed world’s leading terminals.

The KICT has always taken part in activities that have changed and improved lives especially those of children. To express long-term commitment to the community, the KICT administration has been extending financial assistance through different programmes including construction of educational centres. One of such examples is Lyari Model School which is located in the centre of Lyari Town, an under-developed locality situated in western Karachi where most of the residents live below the poverty line.

The parents of most of 600 students at the school find it difficult to make both ends meet and they can’t afford to spend on children’s education. Unfortunately, Lyari Model School was overlooked by NGOs due to its proximity to posh areas of Karachi. The KICT stepped in to help the school and its students. The terminal provides the school with money it needs to impart free tutoring, teaching materials and uniforms as the KICT sees this as an investment for the better future of Lyari Town.

The KICT has also introduced SOS Children Village located in Malir area. It is a private social welfare organisation dedicated to the care of orphans and abandoned children. It provides children with a home and family-like environment. Every effort is made to enrich children with strong moral values, modern education and skills that will enable them to become productive citizens. The Village has 15 family houses to shelter children between the ages of 3 to 22.

Currently, 186 children are living in these family houses and the SOS administration is trying to provide them with an environment where they feel protected. The children are given an opportunity to participate in physical activities and there is a proper cricket ground and a basketball court. However, the children were unable to play basketball as the court was in bad shape and needed refurbishment. The original floor of the court was completely broken and needed to be reconstructed.

With the belief that physical activities are an integral part when it comes to proper upbringing of children, the KICT took prompt initiative and renovated the basketball court. The construction of the basketball court will help the children to utilise their time in a constructive manner. Building a basketball court for these deprived children is a small step towards a better future generation.

Furthermore, one of the KICT’s primary goals is to maintain the health and safety of its employees and other port workers. It is committed to ensure that the employees and contractors work together in an environment that is as free of occupational hazards as possible and follow occupational safety laws in letter and spirit.

The KICT is to enhance the performance through commitment of management, promotion of personal accountability, implementation of staff training programmes and measurement of performance based on occupational safety-related criteria.

It also promotes safety culture through a terminal public address system, broadcasting information about safety rules and regulations in different languages including Urdu, English and Pushto.

The KICT complies with all laws and regulations to reduce its impact on the environment. It also promotes environmental protection habits among its staff members.

The KICT uses Synchronous Planning and Real-time Control System (SPARCS) software from Navis to help optimise labour utilisation, manage yard space and deploy equipment. Vessel plans, received as EDI documents, are imported directly into the database allowing vessel and yard planners to plan operations on a GUI interface concurrently and in real-time. SPARCS keeps equipment idle time and the number of handlings per container to a minimum. This helps maximise terminal productivity and profitability.

EXPRESS software helps the KICT manage business transactions according to unique procedures and rules. The dynamic reporting capabilities built into EXPRESS enable terminal managers to track performance, increase profitability and improve customer service. This eliminates the need for paper-based tracking and reduces human errors as all transactions are recorded and invoiced accurately in real-time.

The combination of SPARCS and EXPRESS gives a computerised and real-time tracking of the cargo for the entire time that a container is at the terminal. This is facilitated through real-time tracking by radio data terminals in the yard.

Other IT advances allow the KICT to work closely with the shipping community and port authorities. Using an Electronic Data Interchange (EDI), BAPLIE, CODECO, COARRI, INVOIC and IFTMBC allows the KICT to send information electronically to customers in a timely manner.

Other state-of-the-art technology at the KICT includes a wireless LAN for monitoring quay cranes, IP telephony and VHFs for effective internal communications, a highly reliable data backup solution and disaster recovery solution.

Branchless Banking: Pakistan vs Bangladesh


LAHORE: Pakistan’s market is hailed as an innovation laboratory for branchless banking (BB) services within the South Asia region as well as outside. But it seems that Pakistan’s regional leadership could soon be taken over by a relatively late entrant in the sector: Bangladesh.

Keeping in mind that Pakistan and Bangladesh have similar populations, mobile penetration and income levels, Greg Chen – who is the Regional Representative for South Asia at the World Banks financial inclusion policy center of Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP) – recently compared the BB sectors in the two countries and published his findings online.

Chen found out that Bangladesh has made more progress in last two years than Pakistan has in the last four years. He compared the latest central bank data from the two countries, which shows Bangladesh in the lead on various counts (see the illustration). The latest quarterly data available shows that the BB transactions value grew by 57 percent in Bangladesh compared to seven percent in Pakistan.

The two BB markets are similar in some respects, according to Chen. Big players have invested heavily: BRAC Bank and Dutch-Bangla Bank are prominent in Bangladesh, while both leading telcos and banks are invested in Pakistan. Moreover, agents non-exclusivity (handling multiple service providers) and rising trend of over-the-counter transactions have resulted in large volumetric growth in the two markets.

Chen has pointed out onerous account opening requirements that are retarding BB service uptake in Pakistan: “Even the lowest-KYC accounts (level 0 and level 1) are less than half in number of what Bangladesh has reached in a shorter time span. Bangladeshs visually confirmed voter identification card and paper account opening process facilitate faster account growth. Pakistan is also limited in the number of agents who can open accounts (only 27 percent) – no such limits in Bangladesh,” he wrote.

However, the reason why Bangladesh seems to have expanded its BB infrastructure faster could be that it is two commercial banks which dominate the market there, relying on their conventional banking footprints. In Pakistan, it is telcos that are more active – but due to their inherent bias towards mobile wallets and mobile-based transactions, infrastructure expansion may remain secondary to growth plans.

The CGAP comparison shows Pakistan lagging behind. However, the fact that Pakistan’s BB market is more competitive and diverse than Bangladesh’s, that it has full blessings of the government and sector regulators, and that it is moving towards interoperable networks, make it a different market than Bangladesh’s. Chen also points out this qualitative difference in the two markets dynamics.

So, the Pakistani policymakers may want to look into the Bangladesh’s BB market for possible policy emulation, but need not worry too much!


Pakistan should ink more free trade agreements


 LAHORE: In recent years, we have witnessed a spectacular rise of regional and bilateral trade agreements in most parts of the globe. In Asia, a myriad of new trade agreements have blanketed the whole region where not only individual countries are signing new trade agreements with others states but economic blocs also prefer to ink various Memorandum of Understandings (MoUs).

Even rival countries of the world are also found themselves bound to sign agreements with their arch-rivals like Japan and China as well as India and Pakistan.

This trend of trade agreements is also true for Europe and America as well, with the consolidation of the monetary union and the rapid expansion to incorporate Eastern European countries. Besides this, in Africa there has also been a renewed interest in pursuing policies to promote regional integration. At the same time, there has been a growing interest in the developing world and between developed and developing countries to cooperate in the provision of regional trade cooperation projects.

Pakistan is not an exceptional case as it has also signed a number of trade agreements with its neighbouring as well as friendly countries to enhance its exports. For example, Pakistan has already signed trade preferential agreements with Malaysia, Sri Lanka, China and many other countries of the world while other agreements are in the pipeline. The most discussed Most Favoured Nation (MFN) agreement with India is still under process which has been delayed because of certain reservations. Pakistan has also inked MFN agreement with China in phase-wise. To get $95 billion export target, Pakistan is striving hard to explore new markets in the world and endeavouring to make new agreements with different countries.

Though India is an arch rival of Pakistan and does not spare a chance to harm Pakistan but still economic liabilities have compelled India to maintain and enhance economic ties with Pakistan rather than wage a war. In this regard, India has awarded MFN status to Pakistan years ago and is hoping for the same behavior but Pakistan has some apprehensions in this regard since Pakistani businessmen think that after awarding MFN status to India, local industry which is already on the verge of collapse due to scarce energy would be completely ruined after India floods its items across Pakistan.

Last year PPP-led government had decided to award MFN status to India till December 2012 but non-removal of NBTs from Indian side put Pakistan into a fix and decision in this regard deferred for a certain period. However, after winning election, it is hoped that PML-N government would restart the dialogues. Considering recent exchange of decent words between Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) chief Nawaz Sharif and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as a good omen, the business community of the country is expecting that this government will grant the Most Favored Nation (MFN) status to India.

In this regard, prominent business leaders of the country believe that Nawaz has the capability to deal with India on equal basis. An office-bearer of FPCCI on the condition of anonymity said that being a mature political party, PML-N is enough capable to start dialogue with India on equality basis. After getting thumping majority in recently held elections and sharing respectable notes with India, it is clear that MFN status is not far in the PML-N government, he said adding that the new government will have to work on abolishing the hidden barriers and taxes created by India in trade agreements.

The businessmen of Pakistan are of the view that trade between two countries could boost Pakistani exports but trade should be dealt with India on equality basis because hidden clauses in agreements are stopping Pakistani exporters and importers to earn more benefits.

KCCI President Haroon Agar opined that ­industrialisation and enhancing exports is the imperative solution to uplift the economy. MFN status to India will help the country come out of crisis of current deficit as exports will rise through free trade between both the countries, he claimed.

Agar further said that Pakistan should focus on signing preferential and Free Trade Agreements with friendly countries because having good relations with India favour Pakistan’s economy. MFN status to India is much in favour of Pakistan than India, as it’s a good chance to increase trade by exporting goods to a country of billions of people, he added.

Agar further revealed that trade between both countries will not smash Pakistani agriculture sector as being considered by some agri experts. However, traders of agronomic products will enter in the new competitive business atmosphere which they have never seen, adding that general consumers want cheap products only without paying attention where they are coming from, so to facilitate the consumer of Pakistan trade with India should be opened.

The trade agreements, he said, should be based on win-win situation instead of giving benefits only to India as seen in the past. Equality in treaties can benefit the trade of Pakistan otherwise this will wreak havoc on the already moribund industries and productive sectors of the country, he added.

He further said that priority in trade should be given to non-energy consumed sectors so that our exporters can bring foreign reserves in the country on urgent basis.  India is hoping the two sides will also expedite action on other areas where convergence was achieved in 2012. These include the creation of an Indo-Pak Joint Business Council to guide the bilateral trade and investment dialogue and improving air connectivity between New Delhi and Islamabad. More efficient courier services and telecom linkages, including international roaming facilities are also to be explored.

Pakistan government not only giving emphasis to neighbouring countries for trade agreements including India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh but also  having eye on far flung countries including Malaysia and Indonesia. Pakistan has also signed a preferential agreement with Malaysia. Ambassador Republic of Indonesia to Pakistan Burhan Muhammad said that the Indonesia-Pakistan Preferential Trade Agreement (PTA) was a landmark development for both countries which will not only raise bilateral trade volumes but also open doors for Pakistani businessmen to penetrate into the emerging Asean market. He stated that his priorities were to enhance economic cooperation between Indonesia and Pakistan and to connect the business communities of two countries to further strengthen mutual linkages.

He mentioned that although there was some delay in the implementation of the PTA, he would meet with the Indonesian Trade Minister to resolve the issue. The envoy, however, affirmed that besides economic and commercial cooperation, Indonesia also intends to invest in power projects in Pakistan, as Pakistan can get benefit of Indonesian expertise in the coal sector, adding that Pakistan and Indonesia are also negotiating to construct a coal power plant in Karachi for generating electricity by using domestic and Indonesian coal.

Likewise, ambassador of Finland Rauli Suikkanen has said that Pakistan holds geo-strategic location in the region. As Pakistan is a vibrant country having immense trade potential and resources, his country would like to enhance trade relation with Pakistan. In this regard he also offered some preferential trade agreement with Pakistan. He revealed that in 2014 Inter Ministerial Meeting is being planned for broad-based meeting including trade.

Reciprocal trade need enhancement aligned with true potential. Finland is hold most hi-tech industries in the Europe region having mixed Eurasian norms and culture. Being the member of EU, Finland will support Pakistan to achieve GSP plus in EU. He hoped newly elected government will resolve energy crisis, Finland can offer its assistance.

Pakistan is the most promising land in the region for investment, he said adding that Finnish corporations can invest in Pakistan while expanding their businesses across Pakistan and beyond. Currently Finnish investment in Pakistan stood around $3.8 million in 2013, he added.

He stated that Finland is an important country in European Union which can support Pakistan for getting GSP Plus in EU, entering into Pak-EU Bilateral Investment Treaty, signing of Preferential and further entering into Free Trade Agreement with the EU with preferred market access, he maintained. He further added that in FY12, Pakistan imported commodities of about $188m while exports to Finland amounted to $52m which is comparatively quite low showing trade deficit between the two countries.

Though Pakistan government has signed a number of trade agreements with different countries of the world but Pakistan has given a special status to China in this regard. That was why, markets across the country have been filled with Chinese items. From needles to innovative toys to replicas of American or European different items, all products have been pouring in Pakistan from China frequently and in bulk.

It would be not out of place to mention here that Pakistan and China gad signed a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in November 2006, after which Chinese products flooded the local markets. While Pakistan imports about 1,000 items from its neighbour to the north, exports to the country stand at a dismal below-50 figure. From December 2006 to August 2010, we imported around $11.1 billion worth of goods from China. The value of our exports to China over the same period was only $0.25 billion.