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Many believe that it will be easier for the camel to pass through the eye of the needle than to clear goods at the ports within the stipulated 48 hours. To overcome the challenges, some have advocated the adoption of a national single window(SW) instead of the present multiplicity of agencies and terminal operators at the ports.

For ports users, the challenges of doing business are almost limitless. Achieving 48-hour cargo clearance at the ports has remained a mirage. It has made doing maritime business in neighbouring countries in the sub-region attractive.

However, there appears to be a consensus that limited co-ordination among agencies, terminal operators and other stakeholders is the greatest obstacle. Importers, clearing agents and other port users face stringent, overlapping and onerous requirements that have made the adoption of a Single Window (SW) imperative to boost efficiency and reduce corruption.

The Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) Managing Director, Ms Hadiza Bala Usman, told reporters that the agencies, terminal operators and stakeholders must key into the government’s initiative of promoting the SW platform to meet the 48-hour cargo clearance deadline.

The NPA, she said, has embarked on the establishment of a SW through an intense automation and introduction of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). “The adoption of a national SW platform will strengthen the port industry by boosting efficiency and reduce cost and time, which are the major objectives of port concession agreement signed by private terminal operators,” she said, adding that the SW has been used by many countries to facilitate trade at ports.

What is a Single Window?

A Single Window is an organic mixture of the collaborative efforts of parties involved in a nation’s international trade activities. It uses the latest information communications technology (ICT) techniques, international data and messaging standards together with simplified, harmonised and remodelled information systems for data exchange to replace traditional paper-based information.

The adoption of the SW, according to Ms Usman, will make local ports competitive in the international trade network and boost trade facilitation programmes of the Federal |Government. “It will also reduce corruption and entrench transparency and accountability in the port operations,” she said.

The desired reforms at the ports, it was learnt, may not be completed without the full implementation of the SW platform by the ports, the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) and others in the chain of trade facilitation.

A senior official of the Federal Ministry of Transport (FMoT), who craved anonymity, said the Federal Government would generate additional $800 million yearly from the ports and border stations if other agencies supported the SW initiative.

The official urged the Federal Executive Council (FEC) to compel the NCS, the police and other agencies at the ports to key into the platform to facilitate trade and generate more revenue. He also urged the National Assembly to back the initiative with a law.

Imperatives of SW

The purpose of the SW is to provide a platform and processes for a paper-less (electronic) system.

“The ultimate national SW includes all of the information exchanged by traders; government departments (including Customs); maritime, air, road, rail and inland waterway transport systems; port and terminal operators; and a range of other participants in the trade process, including freight forwarders, customs brokers, shipping agents, banks and insurance companies. The management, or governance system, which oversees this major transition from paper and traditional business processes to electronics-based and re-engineered systems is the major challenge in a comprehensive sequence of conversion and change management activities that are themselves serious challenges.

“The SW is unavoidable if the country intends to remain engaged in expanded and more efficient global maritime trading activities. And the benefits are considerable and long-lasting. The reverse is also said to be huge for those countries that delay engagement in single window implementations as they will be increasingly subjected to powerful inhibitors to national trade efficiency and economic growth,” the official said.

Those that need to collaborate with the NPA in its drive to have a national SW are importers, exporters (consignors and consignees), trade professionals (freight forwarders, Customs brokers and shipping agents), shipping companies, airlines, road, rail and inland waterways, duty free zones, dry ports and multi-modal cargo depot, ports and airports, container terminals, bulk terminals, port gate operations and Customs and all agencies that have a trade compliance responsibility, licensing, permit issuing and/or inspection responsibilities.

The need for collaboration has given the requirements for faster information delivery, often in advance of shipping, for security and other purposes, and the growing needs of data harmonisation in international supply chains.

The ability of government agencies to handle data efficiently and swiftly has, in fact, become a key element in international competitiveness, especially in port operations.

“A single window is designed to overcome this complex system of data submission and regulatory control. It is designed to sit at the national junction of national and international trade data exchange, thereby presenting a single point of access to all other relevant trade systems. While the primary objective is the single electronic submission of data, establishing a single window necessitates a major rationalisation of current approaches and requirements to trade administration and operations, especially the reuse and elimination of duplication of existing data wherever possible, together with widespread e-Government applications and trade-related ministry.

“The single window evolved as a single physical office that was established to handle all formalities, compliance and payment processes. This was commonly known as a “one-stop-shop”, or “guichet unique”. Initially, the trade or trade facilitation single window was applied to the trader’s lodgement of customs declarations and ministerial licences and permits. The concept, being championed by the NPA, has now been extended by the authority to include the complete trade, transport and logistics community to boost efficiency and reduce corruption,” the FMoT official said.

Prospects of SW

Stakeholders say the adoption of the SW will enable importers/exporters to submit documentation and/or data requirement for importation, exportation or transit to a single entry point; ensure onward distribution of documentation and/or data requirements to the participating authorities or agencies through the platform.

After the examination by relevant authorities or agencies of the documentation and/or data, the results shall be notified to the applicants through the SW timely, and in cases where documentation and/or data requirements have already been received by the Single Window, the same documentation and/or data requirements shall not be requested by other agencies except in urgent circumstances and other limited exceptions, which are made public. Government agencies must apply relevant international standards and practices as basis for the single window schemes.

Benefits to government agencies, terminal operators

The SW will increase compliance level and see to efficient and productive use of resources, facilitate enhanced fee, duties and penalties’ collection. It will institutionalise more comprehensive, streamlined and automated business compliance to government legislative and regulatory requirements. It will also enhance risk analysis, management and improve security.

There will be reduction in corruption and illegal trade activities, enhanced transparency and accountability. It will equally bring more trader-friendly environment, leading to increased foreign investment, integration and timely flow of information between government agencies and improved business intelligence.

Benefits to importers, exporters

For importers and exporters, there will be cost reductions through minimised clerical efforts, time spent will reduce and eliminate delays. There will be more predictable, reliable and authoritative decisions, just as there will be faster goods clearance, exceptional handling and dispute resolution, leading to reduced inventory holding costs.

Also, there will be predictable and reliable consignment clearance and availability of advanced goods release information and reduction in face-to-face meetings, greater transparency and reduced opportunities for rent seeking and corruption.

Benefits to logistics providers

The SW will facilitate faster movement of goods through formalities and trade junctions, leading to better and more productive utilisation of resources. There will also be reliable information on timing of goods movement, allowing accurate scheduling, allocation of resources and improved accuracy of information provided to clients; more productive and flexible use of human resources; and ability to accurately schedule goods collection and discharge times and locations. There will also be a better end-to-end audit of port operation.

The President, Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents ( ANLCA), Olayiwola Shittu, said the SW will lead to automated container bay planning and status systems, port community access and information systems, container track and trace (across the various individual port community systems), goods release note (GRN) systems, transport booking and gate management systems.

“An additional ICT port management system that usually deals with vessel call book and bill and berth reservation and preparations will be enhanced. The most sophisticated of these port systems are integrated with the formalities of the SW so as to provide an end-to-end formalities and cargo movement system. This integrated system is called the national single window,” he added.

The SW was designed to be the single information technology clearing house for all trade-related regulatory and compliance data. These include importer’s customs declarations, supporting documentation, import and export licences and certificates of origin.

“Shipping services are usually separate port systems that handle vessel arrival and departure operations, including pilotage, berth allocation, arrival/voyage booking and billing, and the various certificates and ship papers covering vessel and crew, and non-cargo contents of the vessel.

“Cargo movement refers to bulk, general cargo and container handling, labour (stevedores), container storage, physical inspection facilities for containers and customs, where necessary, gate management, transport booking and road/rail onwards transport are put in place,” he said.

According to him, if these systems are linked together into a total port community system, it becomes possible for goods’ owners, freight forwarders and other legitimately interested parties, to track and trace cargo through the complete port system, from arrival to departure and vice versa.

“The port SW, as championed by the NPA, is a significant tool for efficiencies, speed of cargo movement and vessel turn-around, and hence for significant revenue generation,” Shittu added.

An importer, Mr Solomon Benson, said the SW is a laudable initiative, which a country like Nigeria should embrace to transform the ports.

‘’We are aware that the current management of the NPA is not happy over the past failure of 48-hour cargo clearance policy. Apart from the fact that the delays experienced in cargo clearance distrupted the production schedules of manufacturers as raw materials are not delivered in good time to their factories, they affected their revenue and were responsible for high level of corruption at the ports as importers struggled to clear their cargoes under harsh condition. This, again exacerbated inflation as goods were not quickly cleared from the ports to meet relevant needs in the economy and that is why the need for a national single window is imperative,” Benson said.

To him, the Federal Government needs to have the political will to introduce the Single Window platform to reduce costs and increase the compliance level of importers and exporters.

‘’The benefits of the single window platform at the ports are immense, because on a micro level, it will boost the competitive advantage of our ports and its traders on the international markets, while increasing government’s revenue, boost foreign direct investment, introduce simpler, faster clearance, and release processes,’’ he said.

Government’s attention on the SW, Benson said, should be on the following:

  • Reducing time and cost of doing business at ports;
  • simplification and automation of ports operations, and
  • reducing the human interface and increasing transparency among others.

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Autor(en)/Author(s): OLUWAKEMI DAUDA

Quelle/Source: The Nation Newspaper, 27.03.2017

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