Wholesale traders waiting for SOP to start importing

Rajesh Rai  | Phuentsholing

Not many wholesalers of goods, especially essentials, have enough stock to last more than a month should there be another lockdown in Phuentsholing, which is still a red zone.

The traders attribute the depleting stocks to problems in importing essentials. Increased loading and transshipment charges at the mini dry port (MDP) and incomplete warehouse Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) as required by the Covid-19 safety protocol are the two primary reasons.

An official from UT trading, Deepen Ghalley said most of their stocks have been transported to Thimphu already. The company is currently working on the SOP for its warehouse, commonly known as godown. Several facilities such as holding rooms and separate toilets for drivers and labourers have to be constructed, according to the SOP.

“Once the SOP is approved, we will start importing,” Deepen Ghalley said.

With their own warehouse ready with SOPs, traders will be able to bring in consignments directly to their go-downs—without having to go through the unloading and transshipment at the MDP. With this system, dealers could also avoid the loading and transshipment charges at the MDP.

Traders are also faced with the problem of workers at the MDP. While there are not many loaders, traders said those available are inexperienced. Today there are only 38 loaders at MDP. Prior to the lockdown, there were more than 140 loaders.

“Transshipping is a problem. Loaders cannot fit goods from a small truck to a bigger truck as they are inexperienced,” said a trader.

A Thimphu importer, Sonam Tshering said the essentials he stocked prior to lockdown has already exhausted and that dealers have been requesting the government for approval of new imports.

“As there are limited labourers for unloading they are restricting import,” he said.

“But we are asking the government to allow import from Pasakha by following protocols and unloading our goods by our own labourers so that we don’t put pressure on the government.”

Although FCBL may have stock but it could be limited at this time, Sonam said. He also said people preferred rice brands that are not with the FCBL.

“Their stocks are also getting depleted and should there be another lockdown, we will be in big trouble.”

A manager with the Tashi Commercial departmental store, Subash Rana said they have a month’s stock of essentials.

“We will have the last few consignments come today,” he said. “We have everything—starting from personal care products to all essentials.”

Subash Rana, however, said that there were problems with unloading and transshipment at the MDP. Loading charges have increased by more than Nu 1,000 compared to the past.

A Zimdra Impex manager said most of their stocks are stuck in Jaigaon. Including those stuck at Jaigaon, Zimdra Impex has a month’s stock of essentials.

Meanwhile, wholesalers will also have to import directly from the factories from now on. This means they will have to get dealerships for essential products they import. This was made compulsory recently, importers said.

Tamzhing Enterprise’s proprietor, Sonam Rinchen said they have contacted at least 10 companies and have signed agreements with them.

“Now we are working on the SOP for our go-down,” he said, adding that some infrastructures have to be built.

Tamzhing Enterprise that supplies essentials across the country doesn’t have much stock. The enterprise only imported what its clients had ordered. Imports will be allowed after the SOP is approved, Sonam Rinchen, who is closing his go-down to work on the SOP said.

“There is a lot of pressure from the customers,” he said.

A grocer and wholesaler, Kelzang Thinley said importing directly from the manufacturers is challenging. Kelzang said he has dealerships for five companies. However, there are many products, mostly, small ones for which even big dealers have no trade with the manufacturing companies.

Meanwhile, FCBL’s stocks are also currently lower than the required quantity. As of September 19, FCBL had a stock balance of 6,317 metric tonnes (MT) of rice. It is supposed to have 8,407MT of rice at any given point in time.

The corporation had 1,220MT of oil and 260MT of pulses.

The corporation has already started working on procurement.

In Covid-19 preparedness, as per the government instruction, FCBL had imported and stocked up 16,815MT of rice, 1,657MT of cooking oil and 675MT of pulses. Just prior to the lockdown on August 11, the corporation was left with 11,188MT of rice, 1,537MT of oil and 617MT of pulses.

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