Imports up by 22 percent in 2014, exports down by 12 percent

Imports rose by 22 percent in 2014, while exports dropped by 12 percent, the Maldives Customs Service has revealed.

According to a statement from customs today, imported goods in 2014 amounted to MVR30.7 billion (US$1.99 billion), resulting in duties of MVR1.96 billion – a 15 percent rise compared to 2013.

The decline in exports saw the total value of goods leaving the Maldives in 2014 valued at MVR2.24 billion, compared with MVR2.56 billion in 2013.

The latest balance of payments figures from the Maldives Monetary Authority show the current account deficit was US$290 million in 2014 – equivalent to 10 percent of GDP, though the central bank estimates that this will drop to 6 percent of GDP in 2015.

Recent amendments to the Import Export Act – part of a raft of revenue raising measures – are expected to raise MVR533 million (US$34.5 million) in additional income in 2015.

Customs revealed today that petroleum products had contributed the most to last year’s imports, totaling MVR8.3 billion – or 27 percent of the total. Food items comprised 19 percent of the year’s imports while 16 percent was machinery and electronic items, totalling to MVR6 billion and MVR4.8 billion respectively.

The customs third quarterly review for 2014 suggested that the rise in machinery and electronics was largely responsible for the period being the most costly in terms of imports in the past five years.

It was also noted that 65 percent of the goods imported during quarter were sourced the UAE, Singapore, Malaysia, India, and Sri Lanka. These countries made up 62 percent of total imports in 2013.

The export of tuna products to Thailand dominates the Maldives’ exports – constituting 44 percent in the quarter, having received 37 percent of exports in 2013.

An IMF delegation to the Maldives late last year noted that, though the economy is “relatively buoyant”, the widening fiscal deficit as a result of high public expenditure and debt needed to be addressed.

Revisions to estimates of the current account deficit had indicated greater stability in the economy than previously thought, explained the IMF. Previous MMA estimates of the 2014 trade gap suggested it could equal 22 percent of GDP.

During the IMF’s last visit to the country in February this year, the delegation expressed surprise at the resilience of the economy, admitting that it was still studying how the domestic economy has remained afloat in the face of soaring public debt and persistent budget deficits.

Related to this story

Parliament approves import duty hikes

Maldives economy “relatively buoyant” but fiscal imbalances continue to grow: IMF

Majority of dollar receipts spent on imports: MMA assistant governor


Two men taken into police custody for possession of drugs and alcohol

Police have said today (April 8) that two individuals have been taken into custody for possession of what is suspected of being illicit narcotics, along with alcohol from M. Aathari.

The two locals arrested were a 27 year old and an 18 year old male.

The operation involved the raid of M. Aathari where 3 packets of suspicious substances were found, along with 7 bottles of alcohol, 16 empty bottles, a large amount of money and implements used to partake in illicit narcotics.

The Drug Enforcement Department is investigating the matter further, stated Police.

Yesterday, police revealed that a large cache of alcohol had been seized from a house in Malé the previous day.

A total of 115 bottles and 48 cans of liquor were seized in the raid.


Parliament passes bill reducing, eliminating import duties

Parliament today passed a bill proposed by the government under its economic reform package to amend the Export-Import Act of 1979 to reduce and eliminate import duties for a wide range of goods.

The amendment bill was passed today with unanimous consent of 60 MPs present and voting.

Among the items for which custom duties would be eliminated include construction material, foodstuffs, agricultural equipment, medical devices, passenger vessels and goods used for tourism services.

However, the bill was passed with an amendment to charge a Rf10,000 (US$650) annual fee for passenger vessels and no change to tariffs for spare parts. While import duties were eliminated for construction material such as cement, glass, tin, aluminium, plywood and plastic fittings, an import duty of five percent will be levied on tiles, which was reduced from the previous 25 percent.

Import duty was reduced to five percent for furniture, beds and pillows as well as cooking items made from base metals. Other kitchen utensils had duties reduced to 10 percent.

While import duties were eliminated for most fruits and vegetables, 15 percent would still be levied on bananas, papaya, watermelon and mangoes as a protectionist measure for local agriculture. Areca-nuts would have duty reduced from 25 percent to 15 percent.

Import duties for tobacco would be hiked from 50 percent to 150 percent. However an amendment proposed by the government to raise import duties for alcohol and pork from 30 to 70 percent was defeated at committee stage.

A total of Rf2.4 billion was projected as income from import duties in the 2011 budget. With the passage of the amendment bill today and ratification by the President, the figure is expected to decline to Rf1.8 billion next year. The shortfall is to be covered by Rf2 billion in tourism goods and services tax (T-GST) and Rf 1 billion as general goods and services tax (G-GST) revenue.

MDP parliamentary group leader MP Ibrahim Mohamed Solih was not responding to calls at the time of press.

PPM Media Coordinator and Vili-Maafanu MP Ahmed Nihan told Minivan News today that all members of the party’s parliamentary group voted in favour of the bill and stressed the importance of “providing relief to businesses” paying GST on top of custom duties.

“By this vote today, we have answered the MDP’s allegations that we tried to stop Majlis sittings to prevent this bill from being passed,” he said.

Speaker Abdulla Shahid and the ruling party should bear full responsibility for the cancellation of nine sittings over three weeks, Nihan said, as the dispute over the convicted Kaashidhoo MP’s attendance could have been avoided.

The PPM council member condemned the ruling party’s “efforts to blame the Majlis cancellation on opposition parties.”

“PPM will support any measure that will provide relief to the public,” he said, adding that the party would “very closely monitor” pricing by retailers following the elimination of import duties.


Sword shipment destined for ‘Picasso Choice’ toyshop, reveals Customs

Maldives Customs Services today revealed the name of the company responsible for importing a shipment of swords and realistic-looking toy firearms.

According to customs, 260 ‘Airsoft’ pellet guns, five ornamental swords and 12 sling shots were imported to a toy shop Male’ called ‘Picasso Choice’.

Minivan News attempted to contact the owner of Picasso Choice, but the shop attendant said he did not know about the shipment and declined to give the owner’s number, identifying him only as ‘Ibrahim’.

Shortly afterwards, the same shopkeeper rang back to pass on a message from the owner, stating that as the media had not contacted him regarding the shipment until today, he did not wish to comment.

Yesterday Maldives Customs Spokesperson Ibrahim Mohamed revealed that the shipments of swords and toy guns were imported in the name of a company that was owned by a “prominent businessman”.

Customs inspectors initially discovered the swords on July 29. Later, during further inspection of the same shipment, inspectors discovered the toy guns and sling shots customs officers observed were “much more powerful” than normal toy guns.

Two men were also arrested recently at immigration after arriving from Colombo with nine black face masks and a stun gun in their luggage.

A statement issued by the customs identified the two men as Ali Nihad Mohamed, 20, of Joothyge in Galolhu district Male’, and Ahmed Farish, 25,of Konottaa also in Galolhu district.

The stun gun and five face masks were found inside the baggage of Nihad and four black masks were found in the baggage of Farish, customs stated.


Seized swords imported under company name of “prominent businessman”: Customs

Swords seized recently by the Maldives Customs Services were imported to the Maldives in a shipment under the name of a company belonging to a “prominent” businessman, according spokesperson of the Maldives Customs Services, Mohamed Ibrahim.

Ibrahim however declined to reveal the name of the person or the company, “as the investigation of the case is ongoing.’’

The stun weapon intercepted at the airport

A shipment of swords and 260 toy guns were intercepted by customs inspectors in July. The inspectors discovered the weapons inside a container imported to the Maldives that was originally loaded in China.

Photos of the guns released by Customs identified them as realistic-looking ‘Airsoft’ guns, which fire small, hard plastic pellets and can be purchased from toy shops in places such as Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

“The toy guns and the swords were both found in two containers imported by one cargo ship,’’ said Ibrahim. “But they were cleared by the customs individually so [the guns] were found on a later occasion.’’

Maldives Customs Services yesterday seized black masks and a high-voltage Chinese-made electric stun gun. Such weapons inflict pain and momentary paralysis when the two probes are applied directly to the target.

One of the intercepted pellet guns

“The stun gun was found inside the baggage of a 22 year-old Maldivian who arrived from Colombo on flight UL107. Four black face masks were also found with him,’’ Ibrahim said.

One of the masks found in a passenger's luggage

“Another five black masks were found with a 25 year-old Maldivian who arrived with him. They have both now been handed over to police.’’

Aside from their luggage Ibrahim said the two men “looked decent” and appeared generally unremarkable.

Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam said the two men remained in police custody but would not give any more details of the case.