The Joint Apparel Association Forum (JAAF) in a statement yesterday expressed its concern over the resignation of Jagath P. Wijeweera, while stating it hoped that the reform process and Customs automation that was implemented by former Customs Chief with dedication would not be slowed down.
It noted that as the largest export sector of the country, the apparel industry benefited from the reform initiated by former Customs Chief since 2013 which not only resulted in the Customs processes being streamlined but even the BOI process being harmonised despite numerous obstacles.
The history of Customs automation goes back to the early 1990s, when it introduced the ASYCUDA UNCTAD system and kept on increasing the software capabilities with ASYCUDA ++ and ASYCUDA World. However, up to 2011-2012, even the software was not fully geared to facilitate exports or imports to practically to use the automated system.
JAAF recalled with appreciation the large number of meetings Wijeweera held during last two years to dismantle step by step the cumbersome systems and processes together with his team, working closely with the Finance Ministry and stakeholders of the trade.
By the end of 2014, he made the exports process nearly 90% fully automated and reduced paperwork by 90% and today, except for certain licensed products, no exporter needs to go to Customs to pass an export entry, it noted.
He also introduced online payment, the export facilitation centre, reducing physical work for exporters not only at Customs but at the port too, reducing costs and increasing speed. The process brought in transparency and eliminated considerably malpractices, JAAF asserted.
It is the expectation of JAAF that the process of automating imports at the Customs and shipping manifesting systems will be completed by the end of 2015 on which JAAF worked with the former Customs Chief for two years.
JAAF is aware that the good work done by former Customs Chief and the proactive nature of Customs was appreciated by even the UNCTAD consultants. These positive trade facilitation measures taken for speedy clearance of goods and simplification procedures enabled Sri Lanka to climb the ladder on the ‘Doing Business’ World Bank index in 2015 and it would reached even greater heights as a result of the current reform, which will be reflected only in the World Bank report of the next year.
It is JAAF’s expectation that the dedicated work done by Wijeweera and his team to put in place systems and processes will continue and that the Ministry of Finance would take ownership of this trade facilitation project on e-documentation as it would immensely contribute to reduce transaction cost of both imports and exports and enable Sri Lanka to be competitive in international markets.