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National Single Window and Trade Information Portal to be introduced to streamline and improve trans

Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Monday, 25 September 2017 00:00

By Harsha Udayakantha Peiris

In order to raise awareness on National Single Window and Trade Information Portal in the process of streamlining trade and improving transparency, a special event was held on 19 October at the Sri Lanka Customs Auditorium in Colombo. The event was organised to extend a firsthand understanding towards the new reforms in this regard and disseminate information related to the Trade Information Portal (TIP) and the National Single Window (NSW). The event was also focused on the immediate importance of creating the National Single Window (NSW) and Trade Information Portal (TIP) under WTO Trade facilitation Agreement (TFA). The programme is technically and financially assisted by the World Bank and the Government of Australia. 

Speaking at the occasion, Chulananda Perera – Chairperson of the National Trade Facilitation Committee (NTFC) and the Director General of Customs of Sri Lanka Customs stated that the World Bank had been helping Sri Lanka in many ways for several years, particularly supporting the country to implement the WTO-TFA in an effective and efficient manner. “The inauguration of these two very important projects, when implemented would therefore, simplify and standardise the entire way of trading across borders in Sri Lanka,” he said.

Further speaking, he stated that the implementation of a trade information portal would enable all trade related information including border clearance procedures to be easily accessed through a single portal and the implementation of such a portal would ensure transparency and predictability in all border clearance processes. He also remarked that the other project, the development of a blueprint for the implementation of a National Single Window, which when implemented would enable traders to submit information related to import and export through a single point to fulfil all border regulatory formalities. “The Single Window system would enable all regulatory agencies that play a role in border clearance access to the system to attend their part of the clearance process,” Perera said. 

Importance of TFA

The TFA is the first major multilateral agreement at the WTO since the organisation was established. It aims to improve trade efficiency by cutting red tape, increasing transparency and leveraging new technologies, thus improving the ability to trade across borders rapidly, reliably and cheaply. 

Furthermore, for the first time in WTO history, the TFA will link the requirements of the agreement to the capacity of each country to fulfil them, thereby creating a level playing field among developed, developing and least developing countries. 

Sri Lanka has ratified the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) Trade Facilitation Agreement, thereby promising to create an environment with increased international trade that will benefit the trading communities in Sri Lanka. These communities will also include Micro, Small and Medium Scale entrepreneurs (MSMEs).

With the emergence of global value chains that multiply the impact of trade costs, trading structures have been forced to evolve. This in turn, has increased the importance of cross-border trade facilitation. As confirmation of this fact, over 120 member states have already ratified this agreement. 

By being among the first few countries to ratify WTO’s Trade Facilitation Agreement, the Government of Sri Lanka has signalled its strong commitment to achieving trade cost reduction and desire to participate in global economic growth. 

The Trade Information Portal

A report by the National Trade Facilitation Committee (NTFC) points out that the competitiveness of Sri Lanka’s firms depends on their ability to get products to foreign markets in a timely and cost-effective way. Improving access to enabling infrastructure and cutting costly and burdensome trade-related producers with simplified and transparent processes are essential in this regard. The report also states that by simply honouring the commitments outlined by the TFA, authorities can dramatically improve the overall trade facilitation environment in Sri Lanka. 

Speaking at the occasion, Sonali Wijerathna – Co-Chairperson of the NTFC and the Director General of Commerce of the Department of Commerce said that Sri Lanka is amongst the four countries the Trade Information Portal (TIP) is being developed under the project at present. Armenia, Bangladesh and Philippines are the other three countries. “In Sri Lanka, only eight organisations have come up with the information for the SL Portal so far, whilst information has been sought from around 34 organisations in the country,” she said. She raised concerns therefore, that active collaboration is key and the most imperative in successfully accomplishing the task of forming the Trade Information Portal (TIP) in time to enhance the implementation efficiency of the whole programme. 

A Trade Information Portal is a single source of information on all rules and regulations related to international trade transactions. “Over a series of consultations, the Sri Lankan trading community has highlighted minimising uncertainty in government policies and improving predictability and transparency as key priorities. These challenges have been exacerbated by a complex regulatory framework with a number of border control agencies operating under different mandates. In this context, a single source of information would bring clarity and allow traders to operate with confidence,” the NTFC report states. 

In a special presentation at the event, Luciano Pugliatti – senior Trade Facilitation Specialist of the World Bank Group said that the Sri Lanka Trade Information Portal is a website that will contain all regulatory trade related information for import, export as well as transshipment. These information will comprise of all laws, regulations and other legal instruments, all license and permit requirements, prohibitions, restrictions SPS or TBT measures (NTMs), technical Standards, entire commodity classification and tariffs, all procedures for license/permit application and clearance, copies of all forms, news and announcements, trade related publications, plain language instructions, trade statistics and market access information. “With the implementation of the portal, the trader is expected not to jump into several other websites to find his or her information as he or she will find everything on one place and at the same time, here, the trader will find how to maximise trade opportunities with the rest of the world,” Pugliatti said. 

For the Sri Lankan Trade Information Portal, the World Bank will provide the software toolkit comprising all facilities for setting up the trade portal, technical assistance to collect and upload all the data initially, technical infrastructure, advice and guidance and a community of practice. 

Lao PDR in the Asia Pacific was the first to join the World Bank Trade Portal Community (WBTPC) in 2012 followed by Lesotho, Myanmar, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Botswana, Malawi, Nepal and Vietnam. Currently, Jamaica, Mongolia, Swaziland, Philippines and Cote d’Ivoire are also in the pipeline to join the WBTPC.

Taking Lao PDR as an example in this regard, Pugliatti pointed out that Laos being a country with a population of almost six million people, has shown a tremendous growth in the use of the portal. “Although it is a country with a low literacy rate of IT, since the launch of the portal in Laos in 2012, the results of the usage have become commendable. The 8,600 customers who visited the portal in 2012 have increased up to 280,000 by 2017. Page views have increased from 79,800 to 212,800, average daily visits from 50/60 to 500/600 and the number of subscribed members from 100 to 1,743 between the two respective years. At the same time the clearance time by now has reduced by 47% while the mean number of days to import and export has reduced from 10.6 in 2013 to 2 in 2017,” he said. “Learned from such lessons therefore, in order to make the Trade Information Portal (TIP) a success story it is important to; develop a culture of transparency and collaboration between agencies in coordination, continue implementation for the on-going sustainability, encourage the public to use the website as well as measure the benefits of transparency. It is equally important that the website is always kept refreshed and updated,” Pugliatti added. 

National Single Window

A National Single Window is a facility that allows all parties involved in trade and transport to lodge standardised information and documents with a single-entry point to fulfil all import, export and transit related regulatory requirements. The fruitful creation and implementation of the Trade Information Portal (TIP) is therefore, key to the making and deployment of the National Single Window.  According to the World Bank (2014) – Logistics Performance Index Report, the proper management of goods passing through borders is critical for trade facilitation as it eliminates avoidable delays and enhances predictability in border clearance. The NTFC report states that however, in Sri Lanka, there are significant shortcomings affecting the effectiveness of border management, including a lack of sufficient coordination between various government bodies. 

Single Window will facilitate and streamline border clearance procedures by providing an electronic platform for traders to submit all trade related documentation to all government agencies and receive the necessary authorisations through a single and convenient online channel. “At the present time, many of the trade-related processes remain manual and paper-based, with significant duplication of documentation required by different agencies. Systems automation and the use of IT in import and export processes can lead to reductions in paperwork and reduce trade transaction costs significantly,” the NTFC report further clarifies. Sri Lanka as a country that has ratified the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) Trade Facilitation Agreement is committed to implement a Single window for Trade Facilitation. The WTO, Trade Facilitation Agreement’s Article 10/4 states that the members shall endeavour to establish or maintain a single window, enabling traders to submit documentation and/or data requirements for importation, exportation, or transit of goods through a single entry point to the participating authorities or agencies. After the examination by the participating authorities or agencies of the documentation and/or data, the results shall be notified to the applicants through the single window in a timely manner. The Department of Commerce will be the key government driving agency for the Trade Information Portal (TIP) while Sri Lanka Customs will handle the National Single Window (NSW). 

Deputy High Commissioner of the Australian High Commission to Sri Lanka Tim Huggins, Program Leader for Growth and Competitiveness for Sri Lanka And Maldives, World Bank Group – Tatiana Nenova, Heads of a number of Government institutions and several representatives of public and private sectors were present at the occasion. 


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