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New DoC info portal creates history


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From left: Sri Lanka DG Commerce Sonali Wijeratne, Ministry of Industry and Commerce Secretary K.D.N. Ranjith Asoka, Australian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka and Maldives Bryce Hutchesson, Minister of Industry and Commerce Rishad Bathiudeen, Deputy Minister of Industry and Commerce Buddika Pathirana and visiting International Trade Centre (ITC) Executive Director Arancha Gonzalez at the launch of Sri Lanka Trade Information Portal (SLTIP) on 20 July in Colombo

 

Sri Lanka’s Trade Information Portal (TIP), the Government’s major initiative on cross-border trade information that complies with the World Trade Organization (WTO), has stunned world trade circles by garnering the highest validation of data accuracy so far seen on any World Bank assisted info-portal. 

SLTIP was launched by the Minister of Industry and Commerce Rishad Bathiudeen on 20 July.  Addressing the launch, Bathiudeen said: “With the operation of the Sri Lanka Trade Information Portal, our business community and other stakeholders will be provided with a useful tool to find the info necessary to facilitate their cross-border trade and import-export.” 

By its launch in 2018 July, 204 Non-Tariff Measures were identified, closely analysed and 207 related procedures were integrated; 252 forms related to Procedures were identified and 269 legal documents with details of legislative background to the Measures too were identified. 

At the time of its launch, 98.8% of the total content of SLTIP had been validated making it the highest validated TIP to be developed by the World Bank to date. SLTIP reached a total of 10,071 visitors including 33,486 page views within the first two months of its launch, which is also the highest number of visitors attracted by any World Bank assisted Trade Information Portal. 

SLTIP implements ratification and notification of WTO TFA categorical commitments by Sri Lanka since the county is bound to honour the agreed commitments. The World Bank Group (WBG) continues to provide financial assistance to the TIP and recently other donor agencies such as International Trade Centre (ITC) under the EU-SL Trade Related Assistance Project and GIZ have also agreed to collaborate to further develop and enlarge TIP. 

Compliant with Article 1.2 of the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement (WTO TFA) which relates to information to be published through internet, SLTIP is a result of vast efforts by the Department of Commerce (DoC) attempted in a very short time. With the World Bank appointed PM Group, the DoC embarked on the endeavour in December 2017. 

DoC now hosts TIP with ongoing inputs drawn from all involved stakeholders. DoC has assigned a team of eight officers in three layers as SLTIP managers, content managers and web masters for the sustainability of the SLTIP. It is this team that ensures updating SLTIP in a timely manner as and whenever there are changes in the regulatory frameworks related to trade with most recent news on trade.

Sri Lanka’s DG Commerce Sonali Wijeratne says: “TIP is part of Government’s multi stakeholder efforts involving an array of agencies to facilitate trade by obtaining trade related regulatory and procedural info. TIP helps in the predictability and transparency of the country’s business environment, by providing foreign and local investors with quick and timely access to domestic trade rules and regulations. 

The portal houses existing trade regulations and procedures such as laws, administrative procedures, guidance notes, forms, licenses, permits, and applicable fees in English, Sinhala, and in Tamil. 

“Among TIP’s other features are overview of Sri Lanka’s economy, business start-up process, import and export guide, as well as information on special economic zones, export processing zones, cross-border trade and GSP automation; international, regional and bilateral trade agreements to which Sri Lanka is a party, including applicable rules and requirements as well as associated benefits. As everyone – including the private sector – now has the opportunity to easily access trade-related regulatory info using one platform, it opens the opportunity for the participants to provide suggestions to improve SLTIP, about which DoC is very keen for. Also SLTIP is poised to expand its informational reach into regulations related to Trade in Services (TiS) and even to widely discussed Non-Tariff Measures imposed by the foreign markets. 

“Even the National Trade Facilitation Committee (NTFC) has flagged the establishment of this Trade Information Portal as a priority area and entrusted the DoC as the leading agency in establishing and managing this database MoUs have been signed with trade related agencies providing information to SLTIP in order to obtain information from them in a timely and consistent manner.” The Director General of Commerce is Co-Chair of NTFC. 

Explaining the huge task of DoC, DG Commerce Wijeratne said: “Accumulation of information was done in several phases. Initially the basic info was gathered through a preliminary questionnaire (from 53 agencies identified as directly involved in international trade and they were further narrowed down to identify the most relevant trade-related organisations, making a final list of 42 – organisations from which the procedures, measures, legal documents related to trade, duties related to import and export, and preferential trade were finally assembled). Following data collection, regular validation workshops were held and individual follow-ups too were done with the 42 organisations assuring that their contents in SLTIP are accurate and up-to-date. 

“DoC aims at many new initiatives to create awareness on SLTIP among the general public. The first SLTIP seminar was held on 16 August at the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce (CCC) auditorium in response to an invitation made by CCC. Representatives from private sector and few public sectors were present and they clarified their doubts and posed many questions on finding information from SLTIP, the sustainability of SLTIP, information availability of SLTIP, etc. The private sector was quite thankful to this initiative as this is a great leap forward in facilitating trading across borders. Also public awareness campaigns at regional levels are to be conducted by DoC in the coming months.”

SLTIP is Sri Lanka’s premier international commitment for transparent and feasible trade info, backed by 42 Lankan Government agencies and is a major step towards a more favourable and enabling environment for doing business in Sri Lanka, which in itself, a critical milestone in the country’s ‘Economic Hub’ ambition.


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