Pakistan has the potential to be at the center stage of regional trade, thanks not only to the billion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project – but also due to an increased focus on improving connectivity with the landlocked countries of Central Asia, including Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.
The international geopolitical situation resulting from the Ukraine conflict has also rekindled the interest of Pakistan’s regional trading partners in leveraging the trade corridors passing through Pakistan connecting South Asia with China, West Asia, Central Asia and beyond. Herein lies a hidden yet burgeoning and multifaceted opportunity for Pakistan to position itself as an international trade shipping hub that will also incentivize and boost the country's cross-border trade.
It is against this backdrop that the Pakistan Single Window (PSW) initiative was launched in 2017 aiming to reduce the time and cost of doing business by digitizing Pakistan's cross-border trade and eliminating paper-based manual processes, ultimately overcoming barriers to institutional collaboration and change. Led by Pakistan Customs and established under Pakistan's commitment to the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement, the system began rolling out in 2022 and has currently more than 70,000 users availing electronic services to register with Customs, file declarations for customs processing, and apply for licenses, permits, certificates, and other documents for connected departments online.
PSW continues to innovate by developing a comprehensive Port Community System (PCS) which provides the possibility to upgrade from the micro-national to macro-regional system and contribute even more to a sustainable seaport business.
The PCS is a logistics platform that is used by all entities and stakeholders. It is a platform to exchange information and data which is easy for decision making. The system optimizes port calls and overcomes congestion, while also considering sustainability and the environment in these developments. One of the key benefits of a PCS is the availability of data for identifying bottlenecks in the processes, performing analysis, extracting patterns, and making decisions based on this analysis. The system will facilitate B2G processes for regulatory compliances and will also provide a platform for B2B transactions. The platform can be leveraged by transporters, warehouse keepers, freight forwarders, and other service providers to attract business.
Most port communities experience problems that are not in line with the current digital transformation in the transportation industry. Seaports experience low IT penetration; fragmented industries with multiple screens from different systems; an unnecessary number of communication channels; difficulty in uncovering information origin errors when they occur; paper based regulatory processes; excessive verification of information; and unnecessary and wasted truck movements.
To address these issues and increase efficiency, without necessitating significant capital investment, a good best practice is the adoption of a PCS. The electronic platform enables an intelligent and secure exchange of information between public and private stakeholders. This platform can optimize, manage, and automate logistics processes through a single submission of data that connects transport and logistics chains.
At present, Pakistan has three commercial operational ports—Gwadar Port, Bin Qasim Port, and the famous Karachi Port. Several private sector terminal operators have established operations for container handling and cargo clearance at these ports often working on different systems that are not connected to each other.
Pakistan's new system will provide a layer of interoperability for data sharing, streamline communication among entities and help to improve the flow of work within and across organizations of the port community, in turn getting rid of bottlenecks and enhancing efficiency. It will resolve the issues of excessive paper-based documentation and repeated submission of trade information to multiple government agencies, which not only delay the trade process but also discourage entrepreneurs from growing their businesses.
The Port Community system will be instrumental in facilitating Pakistan's economic growth through the route of CPEC. Businesses, importers, and exporters will save on the time and cost of doing business. The new mechanism will systematically reduce the clearance time of vessels and the dwell time of incoming and outgoing consignments.
– The writer is the Chief Domain Officer at Pakistan Single Window.