Iraq has continued to implement strict inspection measures on imported goods through its maritime ports in the southern city of Basra, after having been accused of turning into “a warehouse for mediocre products.”
Rafed Mahmoud, chairman of al-Nasseem Co. for Foods LLC, which is headquartered in Baghdad, said that the Iraqi Ministry of Planning has resumed, since the beginning of April, the implementation of strict inspection measures on goods supplied to Iraq through Basra’s ports.
“These measures have obstructed the entry of around 50% of goods that used to be supplied to Iraq under normal conditions in the past,” he added.
Companies specializing in the import-export sector objected to the standardization measures that resulted in commercial shipments piling up on border outlets. On the other hand, 20 Iraqi commercial and naval companies filed complaints in this regard, demanding that the Iraqi government reconsider these measures.
Traders and suppliers said that dozens of trade shipments have been held up at the ports of Khor al-Zubair, Umm Qasr and Abu Flous in Basra city, due to standardization and quality control measures. As a result of the delay, the goods got damaged or [the companies] incurred financial losses. The traders and suppliers asserted that they have stopped their trade activities until the government responds to their demands.
Suppliers noted that the new standardization measures have been limited to the maritime supply outlets. However, it is expected that the land outlets will also be subject to these measures as of next month.
The Iraqi Ministry of Planning inaugurated last month a laboratory for standardization and quality control in Basra province.
The Iraqi ports spokesperson said that “the inauguration of this laboratory will facilitate the job of the trader and lawmaker equally, especially since the samples used to be sent to Baghdad to undergo examination and checking for compliance with the standards — an operation that requires time, effort and money.”
“Now, we can examine the merchandise and goods in Basra with less effort. The bustling port movement and the rise in the volume of commercial and economic exchanges with many countries have drowned ports with goods,” he said.
The Ministry of Planning had met in January 2011 with two international companies, one of which is French and the other Swiss, to examine the goods entering Iraq through border outlets. However, the manager of Umm Qasr Port, south of Basra, Safaa Hussein, said that the implementation of the strict inspection measures has pushed suppliers to freeze a big part of their activities.
Hussein added that a large number of goods’ suppliers to Iraq have recently left the southern Iraqi maritime ports. This is due to the strict constraints on goods there, the requirement of the place of production certificate, the examination and quality control measures and the sonar device that tracks any radioactive pollution in the goods.
Iraq has four ports, the largest being Umm Qasr Port. Then, there is Khor al-Zubair Port, south of Basra and Abu Flous Port, southeast of Basra. The oldest is Maaqal Port that was established in 1919 by the British administration of the city at the time.
Investment and Economy Committee MP Noura al-Bajari said that Iraq has become a “garbage bin” for all mediocre foreign goods, due to the slackening in the implementation of the customs’ law and to the absence of a protection policy for local products that forbids the exportation of such goods.
In an interview, Bajari added that “Iraq has not made any progress in the past few years. Its infrastructure is weak, its economic situation has been negatively influenced by the Syrian situation and the economic blockade on Iran and its relations with Turkey are shaky. Since most products come in through the border with these countries, Iraq has been paying a high price.”
Bajari believes that “the government does not have an economic strategy. Despite the presence of economic expertise in the country, there are none in the government. Moreover, the old laws that are applied to the economy today are not helping.”
Last June, Iraq had declared its decision to delay the implementation of the customs’ law, after it was legalized a few months earlier in the parliament. The reason was “the absence of work mechanisms and the rise of the price of products in the Iraqi markets,” according to the Ministry of Finance.
The customs’ law gives the government the right to amend the stipulated customs in the customs charts and the pricelists of agricultural products, based on a decision from the Minister of Finance. This could be done in emergency situations for economic and monetary purposes that necessitate protection measures or reciprocity.
Bijari says, “There are countries and figures standing behind the suspension of this law. They want Iraq to remain the only outlet that imports their goods. The political figures that are accused of standing in the way of legalizing the law have companies and money that are being managed through importation activities. Consequently, it is to their benefit to keep the customs suspended in order to earn gains and huge lumps of money. Naturally, this happens at the expense of building a new Iraqi government and fostering local production.”
Omar al-Shaher is a contributor to Al-Monitor’s Iraq Pulse. His writing has appeared in a wide range of publications including France’s LeMonde, the Iraqi Alesbuyia magazine, Egypt’s Al-Ahaly and the Elaph website. He previously worked for Al-Mada covering political and security affairs and as a correspondent for the Kuwaiti Awan newspaper in Baghdad in 2008-10.
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