Trade Facilitation— a pre-requisite for boosting international trade, economic growth and national development

By G.D. Zaney, Esq.

 

Just as an effective and efficient international trade regime has been identified as a catalyst for private sector development, increased revenue mobilization, poverty reduction and the economic development of countries, so has Trade Facilitation — the potential to deliver goods and services on time, at the least possible cost and with adequate safety and security— emerged as an essential requirement for global trade.

 

Trade Facilitation, which has the primary objective of easing the conduct of trade across borders—imports and exports— at a cheaper cost, involves the simplification and harmonization of formalities, procedures and the related exchange of information flows required to move goods from seller to buyer and to make payment.

 

Trade Facilitation thus requires a number of logistics, namely transportation, warehousing, distribution networks, cargo tracking, security and payment systems, among others, which require an effective and efficient electronic system that will integrate all the logistics, particularly within a single window structure.

 

During the trade negotiations of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Doha Development Agenda, African Caribbean and Pacific-European Union (ACP-EU) Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) and the recent African Union’s (AU’s) Trade Partnership, among others, Trade Facilitation had been identified as critical to the growth and expansion of trade.

 

According to the WTO, a Trade Facilitation Agreement contains provisions for expediting the movement, release and clearance of goods, including goods in transit, and sets out measures for effective co-operation between Customs and other appropriate authorities on Trade Facilitation and customs compliance issues. It also contains provisions for technical assistance and capacity building in this area.

 

Governments all over the world have, therefore, embarked on initiatives such as the removal of non-tariff barriers and the efficient clearance of goods at the ports and borders.

 

Indeed, one of the core policies of the Government of Ghana (GoG) is to ensure the speedy and efficient clearing of goods, not only at the country’s ports, but also at her borders.

 

To that effect, Ghana’s Ministry of Trade and Industry (MoTI) had made efforts for the parliamentary ratification of the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement, concluded in Bali, Indonesia, in December 2013.

 

Government has also introduced the Ghana Community Network (GCNet) Services Ltd. to assist in removing constraints to Trade Facilitation and revenue mobilization; the clearance of goods through Customs in a secured and transparent manner; and the reduction of transaction costs and delays encountered by industry players.

 

GCNet Services Limited is an Information and Communication Technology (ICT) oriented public-private partnership that operates an electronic system for processing trade and customs documents in Ghana.

 

GCNet services involve the automation of the process of transmitting various documents electronically, instead of completing paper documents for agencies like the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority (GPHA), Customs, Excise and Preventive Service (CEPS), Ghana Statistical Service (GSS), Bank of Ghana (BoG), MoTI and National Security, among others.

 

Accordingly, government carried out Trade Facilitation reforms by connecting Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), border points, freight forwarders and other users to the GCNet Services Ltd.; simplified Customs clearance procedures; re-oriented Customs towards Trade Facilitation; and deployed non-intrusive scanners as part of efforts to enhance port management and reduce congestion at the ports.

 

Thus, by means of a single point contact, via the e-MDA portal of GCNet Services Ltd., more than 38 Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) involved in trade, customs, cross border clearances, regulatory processes and payments, as well as private sector entities such as shippers, freight forwarders, importers and exporters have been connected and are able to use the deployed systems.

 

With a mission to provide ICT-based solutions that foster trade development and facilitation, and ensure effective mobilization of trade-related revenue, GCNet Services Ltd. has successfully developed and deployed a Single Window Platform— Ghana Single Window (GSW)— for multiple access and processing of all stakeholder information and requirements through the Ghana Integrated Cargo Clearance System (GICCS); Ghana TradeNet; Ghana Customs Management System (GCMS); Electronic Transit (eTransit) System; Electronic Registration (eRegistration) of Business System; and the Electronic Tax (eTax) Administration System.

 

While GICCS provides an online cargo tracking service, Ghana TradeNet, an Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) System, permits the logistics community to exchange trade-related documentation electronically with all agencies involved in trade-related processes.

 

The eTax Services, for its part, allows taxpayers to register for a Tax Identification Number, manage their profile, submit tax returns online and make electronic payments to settle liabilities while the eTransit System enables the processing of goods in transit to landlocked neighboring countries.

 

Then is the  eRegistrar which allows investors to register their businesses online and pay associated fees electronically and during business registration, the new company is automatically issued with a Tax Identification Number— a requirement for all importers wishing to bring goods into Ghana.

 

GSW, which was launched in 2002 as a secure trade platform to facilitate clearance processes and the exchange of all trade information between the Government of Ghana (GoG) and the logistics community, therefore, reduces the need for data to be entered multiple times and, instead, be exchanged and re-used electronically, achieving faster, more accurate results and improves the ease of compliance with GoG requirements.

 

To enhance trade facilitation, MoTI, in the year 2000, signed an agreement with GCNet Services Ltd., which was renewed in 2013, for GCNet Services Ltd. to fully automate the customs clearance system, and to network other stakeholders involved in the import and export trade to GCMS.

 

With the emergence of automation and the integration of GICCS, the eMDA Portal, eRegistrar Portal and the eTax Portal into the GSW, and through the deployment of a number of applications such as the TradeNet, GCMS, Transactional Document Verification System, eTransit Portal  and the e-LoC, among others, documents such as the carrier manifest, permits, certificates, permits and exemptions that are required to  process consignments through the ports, Customs and the regulatory agencies, have been processed electronically, thereby saving paper and eliminating duplicated manual processes and their timing constraints, and excessive cost.

 

Notwithstanding the high level of progress recorded in efforts at enhancing Trade Facilitation, Ghana is yet to attain the required standards, due to a number of limitations.

 

These limitations include the existence of several check points along the trade routes, ad hoc cargo checks by a multiplicity of agencies as well as unco-ordinated checks by the Regulatory bodies, logistical constraints within the ports, business registration difficulties and long approval processes by MDAs  caused by occasional system downtime.

 

Overcoming these limitations requires the strict implementation of standards and agreements developed at regional and international levels.

 

And as Mr Patrick Poku, Director, Export Trade Development and Trade Facilitation, MoTI, has indicated in his article on Trade Facilitation which was published in the National Trade Facilitation Awards 2016 brochure, “Many Trade Facilitation measures require a reform and modernization process that depends on an enabling environment, which is built upon strong political support and professional programme management capabilities as well as modern technology and IT Systems.”

 

Mr Poku also lays emphasis on an effective International Supply Chain, comprising the sourcing of raw materials, an efficient transportation system, facilitation of import licences and an effective and efficient documentation system for Customs clearance, payment and delivery to the consumer.

 

Industry players have also identified the need to acknowledge the role of professional bodies and institutions whose contributions have played a critical role in the strides made so far in Trade Facilitation and, thereby, motivate them to give off their best by complying with standards and international best practices as developed and envisioned by the WTO and the International Federation of Freight Forwarders Association (FIATA).                                                                                    

 

The writer is an officer of the Information Services Department.