Custom clearances to go paperless from 2018

  • Digital signature, trade information portal and several key functions  to be effective from next year, Single Window blueprint ready for July 2018
  • On track to achieve Govt. revenue target of Rs. 1 trillion
  • Customs DG keen on enhancing efficiency with technology, people-less offices

In a major boost to streamline trade, Sri Lanka Customs will allow custom clearances to go paperless from next year, with the implementation of a digital signature, single window and trade information portal, a top official revealed yesterday.

Sri Lanka Customs Additional Director General S. Rajendran insisted that the department has embarked on several major trade reforms to fast-track trading in the country.

Speaking at the inaugural workshop of the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA), he pointed that of the 36 measures 11 have been already implemented and will be in effect from next year onwards.

As part of the EU-Sri Lanka Trade-Related Assistance – Increasing SMEs’ Trade Competitiveness in Regional and EU Market, the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce in close collaboration with ITC, embarked on its first workshop on private sector trade facilitation training in Sri Lanka through a train-the-trainer methodology.

Noting that Sri Lanka Customs has already implemented online payments, he said they have now started working on legal amendments to accommodate TFA commitments to the Customs Ordinance in order to execute pre-arrival processing clearance, which will greatly benefit the importers.

“The Attorney General has already given his consent for the digital signature for Customs documents. We are now in discussion with Lanka Clear and by January we will be in a position to make it effective,” he told the Daily FT.

He added that the trade information portal and the single window blueprint will be ready by July. “The blueprint of the Single Window will be ready by July, but the implementation will take two to four years.”

Rajendran also expressed confidence that they were on track to achieve the Rs. 1 trillion revenue target given by the Government for this year.

Sri Lanka Customs Director General P.S.M Charles emphasised that they were not only keen on paperless offices, but also on people-less offices in the future.

Outlining the importance of trade facilitation programs, she stated that the use of effective technology and enhancing systems to perform trade was crucial to bolster economic growth.

Acknowledging that 60% of the income was generated by SMEs in other countries, Charles claimed that Sri Lanka was lacking in this sector.

“The three-decade war dragged the economy backwards and now we have to walk fast and catch up with the rest of the world,” she added.

Delegation of the EU to Sri Lanka and the Maldives Cooperation Head Libuse Soukupova stressed that TFA was an important tool for economies to improve the business environment and competitiveness in attracting investment.

She expressed optimism over the Government’s recently announced Vision 2025 and the reforms taking place in the economy.

Although Sri Lanka has many educated women, Soukupova pointed out it was of concern that only 30% represented the workforce.

She said the trade facilitation project would continue till 2020.

Ceylon Chamber of Commerce Dhara Wijayatilake underscored the program highlights and said the chamber was involved in a variety of capacity building programs.

It was pointed out that the SME sector accounts for 75%-80% of the total business profile in Sri Lanka. Therefore, she said bridging regional gaps and reducing poverty were key factors for inclusive trade-led growth.

Speaking extensively on the history and implementation of the TFA EU-Sri Lanka Trade Related Assistance, National Project Coordinator Dr. Dayaratna Silva said SMEs were the victims of red tape and trade assistance programs of this nature assist them to overcome these barriers to tap into the global market.

The objective of this two-day workshop was to assist businesses to understand the terms, potential benefits and practical use of each of the technical measures of the new agreement and to equip them to successfully contribute to the design, implementation and monitoring of the trade facilitation potential implementation choices.

There will be two similar workshops in Colombo early next year and three regional workshops in Jaffna, Batticaloa, Ampara and Hambantota in the future.

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