Sri Lanka to cut costs to trade with information portal

Sri Lanka launched a trade information website Friday bringing together up-to-date information on regulations and procedures relating to exports and imports across 43 different government agencies for faster and easier cross-border trade, authorities said.

Sri Lanka Trade Information Portal (SLTIP) brings together trade-related regulatory and other information across 43 government agencies such as Customs on to one single, user-friendly website.

The website is a requirement under the rules of the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement which aims to achieve easier and faster cross-border trade by making rules transparent and predictable.

“This would facilitate our industries, especially SMEs, in expanding their trading opportunities at a lower cost and shorter time,” Minister of Industries and Commerce Rishad Bathiudeen said at the launch.

“The portal is in response to a clear challenge by Sri Lanka’s private sector,” said World Bank Senior Trade Specialist Marcus Bartley Johns.

“There is a high cost and a large amount of time involved in getting information on regulations affecting trade,” he said.

A survey of Sri Lankan business by the World Bank showed that only half of them turned to government agencies for information.

“Traders overwhelmingly rely on their own experiences and their own personal networks to gather information,” Johns said.

Many businesses have expressed concern that the little information that was available online was often out of date and spread across many websites, he said.

“One company summed-up the challenge clearly by expressing its frustration that the first time that it hears about new regulatory requirements is only when the clearance of their shipments are rejected”.

The portal is expected to deliver direct and immediate benefits to the trade community, especially small businesses and women.

“We are confident the portal will deliver significant gains but it is just one step in what is a much wider process of transforming Sri Lanka into a much more outward-oriented and competitive economy,” Johns said.

The WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement requires member countries to publish online basic information on import, export, and transit requirements and procedures, also Customs forms and documents.

“We have identified and analysed 204 non-tariff measures, and explained 207 related procedures,” said Chris Lewis Jones who headed the team that developed SLTIP on Word Bank software.

“We have also identified 252 forms related to procedures and 269 legal documents that explain various trade measures,” he said.

The portal also includes information on business start-up process, an import and export guide, special economic areas and export processing zones, cross-border trade, GSP automation, and regional and bilateral trade agreements Sri Lanka has signed up for.

-Trade liberalisation-

The government is implementing an eight-fold action plan to improve the trade investment environment with the goal of raising Sri Lanka’s ranking in the World Bank Ease of Doing Business Index from 110 in 2017 to 70 by 2020.

“Some of our trade procedures and requirements are complex. Procedures are duplicated across many state agencies,” Bathiudeen said.

“The time has come for us to evaluate our trade regulatory regime and identify those rules that do not add value and impact our score on the Word Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index,” he said.

The government is completing the blueprint for a National Single Window for trade with technical assistance from the World Bank.

The World Bank is now exploring finance and implementation options with authorities, Johns said at the launch of trade information portal.

“We’re also advising authorities on trade policy reforms including tariff reductions and establishing a one-stop-shop for investors by enhancing the BOI’s capacity to attract and retain foreign investment,” Johns said.

“These are just a few examples and of the complex and ambitious reforms that the Sri Lanka government has embarked on,” he said.

On Thursday, the government introduced its National Export Strategy aimed at facilitating Sri Lankan businesses improve competitiveness, expand global reach and find niche markets.

A trade adjustment scheme is also being developed to help businesses that cannot compete with foreign companies as Sri Lanka looks to negotiating free trade agreements with China, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Sri Lanka is trying to deepen an existing trade agreement with India and concluded one with Singapore earlier this year. The island has a free trade agreement with Pakistan.

Sri Lankan exports enjoy EU GSP Plus concessions, but the scheme is heavily underutilised.

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