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December 8, 2018

Customs mulls paperless trade hub at estimated $50mln cost

Business

December 8, 2018

KARACHI: Pakistan Customs is developing a paperless environment to digitise all the cross-border trade documents and digitally connect the relevant authorities, while the system is expected to be launched in the next four years at a cost of $40 to 50 million, tax officials said on Friday.

The central trade hub, also known as National Single Window (NSW), is about to be active by 2022 in line with the trade facilitation agreement of the World Trade Organization Pakistan is signatory to, an official said.

“We believe to bring down the project’s cost to $40 to 50 million from $160 million estimated by an international consultant,” a senior official, requesting anonymity as he is not authorised to give estimate, said on the sidelines of a World Bank-supported meet-up hosted by the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR).

Customs, which is the lead agency to implement the National Single Window, initiated the project one and half years back in technical assistances from the World Bank, USAid and other foreign institutions.

Members Customs Operations FBR Jawad Agha said the customs is in the process of undertaking a five-year customs transformation plan. “We have to alter our business processes as well as improve our outlook,” Agha said, referring to the existing online clearance system.

In 2011, FBR rolled out Web-based One Customs (WeBoc) to digitally integrate trade processes. Developed by in-house team, the system has the facility of filing cargo before it reaches the port. The system is currently processing more than 5,000 goods declaration (GDs) of import and export consignments.

WeBoc handled four million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) of imports and exports. The system is clearing 95 percent of exports GDs as opposed to 82 percent in 2017.

Tax officials said horizon of payment has come out of the ambit of the National Bank of Pakistan and now all banks can be used as to make payment to the customs department, even through branchless banking channels. They said the trade hub is an upgrade of WeBoc.

Agha said last week chairman FBR approved improvement in the WeBoc system. The new system will have complete picture and profiles of passengers and the crucial trade data. It is a move towards a non-intrusive inspective system in totality in land, sea and air ports through scanning and other upcoming technologies.

Imran Mohammad, program director of the National Single Window said a trader currently needs to submit the same document to customs agent, shipping agent and others.

Mohammad said the entities involved in inspection of consignment like plant protection department, antinarcotics force or others are not connected to each other. The system will connect all the entities, including Pakistan Telecommunication Authority and Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority if they are involved in cross-border trade.

“The (NSW) benefits for public sector are efficient utilisation of human resources and improvement in oversight. Public sector will become more accountable,” the NSW program director said. Last year, 3.8 million documents were issued to handle about two million import and export containers. Traders have to bear cost for issuance of documents. “With 1.3 million containers imported in Pakistan during the last year, our importers have paid about $400 million more than what Indian importers have paid for similar number of containers,” Mohammad added.

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