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Windows of Opportunity

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To allow faster and more efficient trade, the Philippines is looking to set up an electronic web that will eventually encompass the entire region

Transacting with government agencies, particularly the Bureau of Customs (BoC), may soon be much easier thanks to a window. Yes. It’s a window, but not the kind manned by a sleepy government clerk. It won’t be manned by anyone at all, strictly speaking.

The National Electronic Single Window (NSW), a sharing network to interconnect at least 40 government offices in the Philippines, is the government’s newest plan to make doing business in the country quicker and more efficient. The Bureau of Customs, under the Department of Finance (DOF), has signed up with different government agencies like the Department of Agriculture, the Philippine National Police, and the Philippine Economic Zone Authority. The NSW will also coordinate with private institutions like the Association of International Shipping Lines and Bankers Association of the Philippines as stakeholders in more efficient customs collections.

The BoC has secured a 500-million-peso grant through the Commission on Information and Communications Technology e-Government Fund and another £1.3-million (83.7 million pesos) from the European Union for the NSW. The trade facilitation project is expected to be completed in 2012, promising less transactions with collectors and fixers.

Crown Agents, a British development and finance company, is the overall contractor for the implementation of the NSW project in the country. Trade facilitation is one of the Philippines’ top priorities, and is the reason that the BoC has partnered with Crown Agents to lower the business costs of the bureau’s shareholders.

Customs Process

Ten Countries, One System
The concept of creating a single window is widely accepted and promoted by large international organizations like the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), World Customs Organization (WCO), and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The actualization of the project will let crossborder traders or agents submit regulatory files at a single entity or location. These documents often include import and export permits, customs papers, and other trade documents.

In line with the ASEAN’s requirements, member nations are expected to set a scheme resulting in a smooth flow of trading under the green lane system. The system includes the Port of Manila, the Manila International Container Port (MICP), the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) and the Port of Cebu where some 70% of imported goods are screened without having to go through inspection. About 15% of products coming into the country pass through the yellow lane for documentary inspection while the remaining 15% go through the red lane for regular customs inspections.

Cargo Containers

Sundram Pushpanathan , ASEAN deputy secretary general, says that it won’t be long before the National Single Window will be expanded into an ASEAN Single Window (ASW) project. Pushpanathan explains that the single window program is the first step to creating the ASW, a system that will consolidate the customs databases of the 10 ASEAN member states, and allow the release and clearance of items within half an hour.

ASEAN countries have started implementing Single Window projects of their own, but Pushpanathan says help must be given to Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam (CMLV bloc) for the improvement of their customs procedures and the creation of their own Single Windows. “We need to help the CMLV countries so they can meet the 2015 target for the Asean Economic Community. They are slower than the rest, and we know that customs is the number one issue in terms of movement of goods,” Pushpanathan says.

According to the UNECE’s Single Window Concept report, governments must first improve the information flow regarding international trade and make it simpler by reducing legal trade requirements. This concept will fully enable the government to have accurate revenue yields, an enhanced trader compliance, better distribution of resources, and help them develop risk management strategies for better customs enforcement and control.

A Single Window could cut costs by minimizing transactional delays. Having all the required information available on the ASW database will allow for faster clearance and release, more effective arrangement and classification of goods, and the creation of a comprehensive set of region-wide customs rules.

A Single Window is not only limited to customs activities, either. In fact, other trade agencies will be able to access cross-border trade information—statistics, for instance—from the Single Window service provider.

Three Flavors of Faster Trade
The UNECE’s gives three possible models for Single Window systems: the single authority, single system, and the automated system.

The single authority type simply allows customs officers to organize and ensure the observance of all border-related controls. In a single system, traders have to give the required trade information only once and the system disseminates it to different trade agencies interested in making a transaction. An automated system, on the other hand, is a process where a trader can file electronic trade declarations for processing and approval by controlling agencies. If approved, the permits are then electronically sent to the applicant.

It is hoped that by 2010, the National Electronic Single Window will allow transactions in the Philippines to integrate smoothly with the rest of the ASEAN since all members will observe a single set of trade standards for more effective trading among import and export groups. This could lead the ASEAN a step closer to regional economic integration, but for your average importer and exporter, it simply means good business.

Print ed: 03/10

 

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