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The growth in e-commerce and the present COVID-19 pandemic have presented opportunities for the Jamaica Customs Agency (JCA) to “leap forward” with its digital transformation programme, as the customs and border regulatory agency is now rolling out a number of initiatives to make trade easier.

At the heart of this digital transformation, CEO of JCA Velma Ricketts Walker pointed out, is a need to improve the customer experience, change customer behaviour including a “line culture” and improve trust in the clearing system.

“We have a culture where people come and clear parcels, small packages and barrels, and we want to make it as easy as possible, that the experience of our customers is one that is good. In the context of e-commerce, you'd appreciate that consequent to COVID and even before, we know that we have a growing e-commerce [ecosystem] and so we want to ensure that that experience continues to improve, especially from the Customs context. And so, we are also looking at rolling out features to make that experience easier,” she told reporters at the Jamaica Observer Business Forum in late November.

Ricketts Walker further explained that the JCA had to find mechanisms to increase interaction with its customers remotely while discouraging stops at multiple touchpoints to clear goods for both import and export. One of these initiatives is the Express Clearance Process (ECP), which allows for a simplified declaration to be submitted in advance to Customs for cargo less than US$5,000 and ensures speedier processing. Agents and customs brokers then pay immediately and remotely upon submission of the declaration using the advance deposit payment option.

“…We continue to advise persons to ultilise [the ECP] so that the experiences at the terminals, ports, wharf and warehouses are much easier. Too often we get comfortable with persons in long lines and we don't want that. We have to put ourselves in the position of the customers and try to ensure that we are treating them in the manner that we want to be treated,” Ricketts Walker said.

The ECP forms part of a larger digital transformation process at the JCA that started in 2016 with the Automated System for Customs Data (ASYCUDA World) — a web-based portal that supports paperless declaration processing through the use of electronic documents. Now fully implemented, ASYCUDA World has been integrated with another software, Port Communications System, to facilitate the completion of logistics-related clearance processes.

According to Andre Williams, chief information officer at the JCA, “From the ASYCUDA World side, we would have extended our services to approximately 14 border regulatory agencies and that allows for us to automate the document inspection and allows for improvements in co-ordinated efforts where physical inspection is concerned.”

He added that the integration of other regulatory bodies in the process would reduce the touch points where individuals would have to process their documents as well as reduce turnaround time for clearance, as the system creates a “seamless transfer of data” between the JCA and other entities. This has also led to the creation of an appointment system, which has also reduced traffic at the ports.

“There was quite a bit of a bottleneck at the port and the appointment system…has resolved that issue as well. So we're seeing much less turnaround time for truckers. In fact, 90 per cent of our commercial cargo is now being released in 20 hours or less and that's a massive improvement. It's actually ten per cent above the targeted figure of 80 per cent and we continue to improve using technology to widen resources,” Williams noted.

Within the next year, the CIO expects the roll out of a mobile app which is now in development. The JCA mobile app will introduce more payment options, allow customers to track and trace their cargo and transactions, provide information on tariffs and duties, as well as provide general information about the agency.

The digital transformation process will also shake up operations at the Queen's Warehouse, where the agency occasionally holds face-to-face auctions on overdue goods. Auctions, Williams stated, will now be moved online.

“So the very same goods will be auctioned online, where persons will have the ability to register and engage in competitive bidding and also make the payments. So they'll only now be required to pick up the goods once they have successfully won a bid,” he informed Caribbean Business Report.

The JCA's “re-engineering of business processes” has not come without also informing its customers and other stakeholders of the changes in and optimisation of its operations. To this end, Williams said, the agency has “spent an inordinate amount of time engaging with stakeholder groups”, including private individuals, through several fora and senitisation sessions.

At the corporate level, JCA, in collaboration with Jamaica Promotions Corporation, last year introduced an electronic registration service for exporters.

“So we looked at the touchpoints, looked at the documents that were involved, looked at the time for the exporter to obtain an approval and we were [not only] able to re-engineer that…but also integrate that into our service. So it's now a one-stop service for exporters to register online and that information is now conveyed seamlessly to Customs,” Williams outlined.

On a broader scale, the agency leading some 20 regulatory bodies in the implementation of the Jamaica Single Window for Trade (JSWIFT) initiative. In its first phase, JSWIFT will allow importers and exporters to go online and obtain certificates, permits and/or licences they will need for cross-border trade. The system is also integrated in ASYCUDA World.

“When you put these services together, it makes trade a very simple process. You go online, you apply and you'll be able to pay and obtain an approval electronically and that information is being conveyed to Customs for the clearance of items, whether it's inbound or outbound,” Williams said.

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Autor(en)/Author(s): Josimar Scott

Quelle/Source: Jamaica Observer, 24.1.2021

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