Way to seamless cargo clearance at seaports
One of the challenges confronting trade facilitation in Nigeria and some African countries is bureaucratic hurdles associated with cargo clearance at seaports.
Indeed, ‘excessive bureaucracy’ has been identified as the most severe constraints to trade processing and facilitation within the African continent.
According to experts, Africa importers and exporters remain uncompetitive in the global business space due to the number of days it takes to complete import and export processing and their attendant costs.
Besides, in Nigeria, Ghana and other jurisdictions within the continent, several signatories are required to get cargo cleared from the ports thereby contributing to dwell time, alleged corruption, loss of man hour and increase in transaction costs.
Specifically, importers and exporters are mandated to supply same information, data to different agencies of government instead of streamlining their activities as part of measures to curtail corruption, waste, boost efficiency, revenue, reduce cost and facilitate trade.
Speaking at a stakeholder forum on the possibility of streamlining cargo clearance procedures at the weekend, experts called for what they identified as a ‘unified approach’.
According to experts, a unified approach or Single Window Concept if adequately implemented is capable of improving revenue, generate employment, curtail corruption and generally facilitate trade among others.
The Single Window concept was developed by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) in 2005 as part of effort to simplify, harmonize and standardise international trade procedures and associated information flows between trade and government and within government itself.
Through its UN Centre for Trade Facilitator and Electronic Business (UN/CEFACT), UNECE defined Single Window as “a facility that allows parties involved in trade and transport to lodge standardised information and documents with a single entry point to fulfill all import, export, and transit-related regulators requirements.
According to the group, if information is electronic, then individual data elements should “only be submitted once”.
Speaking at the forum titled: “Achieving the national single window vision”, various experts frowned at the duplication of functions at ports, noting that there is need for better, faster and cheaper trade across borders.
In her welcome address, the Chief Executive Officer of West Blue Consulting, Ghana, Valentina Mintah explained that the collaboration of sister countries such as Ghana and Nigeria on trade facilitations activities will bring about further gains in “our quest for increased intra Africa trade, with the realisation of efficient processes and movement of goods”.
Mintah, a renowned consultant on Single Window concept said: “No matter how much is done as individual institutions and countries in addressing these bottleneck, it cannot be compared with the positive and timely impact that can be achieved with the joined up efforts of all stakeholders”.
Explaining further, Mintah said: “When we join forces and pursue the goal of the National Single Window concept, it would be relatively easy to create a solid foundation which will enable us achieve the 50 per cent better, faster and cheaper trade across the border indicators and beyond”.
Participants at the event dwelled extensively on how to pursue and attain seamless cargo clearance at Nigerian, Ghanaian and other ports within the African continent.
They were also of the opinion that the concept should be implemented in phases.
The Ghana National Single Window (GNSW) project was initiated on the September 1, 2015 by the Government of Ghana to enhance the country’s trade and economic development and secure and increase government revenue. It was officially launched on December 1, 2015. The Government subsequently contracted West Blue Consulting to undertake the project.
Under the arrangement, West Blue Consulting is expected to assist Ghana Customs to take over responsibility for Import Classification and Valuation, among others. In his feasibility study presented at the event, trade development and facilitation consultant, Tom Butterly, said to successful implement Ghana National Single window concept, emphasis should be placed on need to enable single submission of data and information required for trade and Customs procedures, ‘without data repetition’.
He advised relevant stakeholders to ensure each data element submitted once can be used electronically many times by relevant authorities.
Other recommendations put forward by Butterly include:
*Automate workflow within each participating government agency for efficiently issuing e- registration, e-permits, and e-certificates, among others.
*Implement full paperless Customs declaration & approval online;
*Enable payment of Customs Duty and fees electronically;
*Establish an integrated and comprehensive risk assessment system, and reduce the percentage of Customs physical inspection;
*Enable automatic information cross checking among the corresponding e-Customs Declaration, e-Permit, e- Certificate & Scanning Information for effective/efficient inspection and release;
*Increase transparency over processing by allowing tracking of the status of processing in a remote manner, and centralised notification or messaging;
*make use of digital signatures;
*Design a flexible solution to take account of the varying ICT-situations and the unreliable general infrastructure,
*Use TIN number as a means to uniquely identify traders; *Ensure that the system is user friendly;
*Establish an effective help desk;
*Ensure system is secure and reliable and
*Focus on impact – the overall economic benefit to the country.
Emphasising more on key recommendations, he called for the required political will and inter agency process improvement.
He said: “Set ministerial level agency benchmarks and goals for all related regulatory agencies to work collaboratively and with business stakeholders, to simplify and streamline their inter-agency procedures and documentary requirements related to exporting, importing and transiting of strategic products.
“Including the agreement on the single application e-form (data harmonization) for each strategic product, and the mandate to use e-forms, e-filing, e-signatures and paperless operations, when practical, to conduct official business with the public.
“Set ministerial level agency benchmarks and goals for each regulatory agency to simplify and streamline its internal procedures, and also procedures and documentary requirements imposed on business stakeholders, particularly those related to exporting, importing and transiting of products,”said Berterley.
He reiterated need for set each agency’s goal, “to be achieved within the next three years as a 50 per cent reduction in cost and time, and better regulations”.
Also in his presentation, Director Institute for Information Innovation, Thailand, Dr Somnuk Keretho said trade facilitation is about “process reform”.
He disclosed that about 44 document is needed to import rice into Ghana.
He said the current paper-based operations make it difficult to validate the information within the paper documents
(data validation), especially when handling paper documents
from several Participating Government Agencies (PGAs).