IN Bangladesh, traders involved with international commerce always encounter serious constraints in the matter of preparation and submission of trade-related documents. Various government agencies concerned with international trade demand from the traders varieties of documents and information related to import-export related acts and regulations. The traders and stakeholders have not only to feed a substantial amount of information and documents to one agency; they are also required to submit these information and documents to multiple agencies. To make the situation further complicated, each of these agencies has its own specific system and paper forms. These requirements place a heavy burden on the resources of the stakeholders. It also leads to an increase in compliance cost, delay in documentation check and approval, lack of coordination amongst involved agencies, serious complications in the clearance procedure and unnecessary load on the stakeholders to comply with government rules and regulations. Above all, the system works as a serious impediment to the growth of international trade in Bangladesh.
There is an urgent need for simplification and harmonisation of processes and procedures of international trade in Bangladesh, particularly in respect of preparation and submission of required information and documents for trade related activities. In this respect, the processes and procedures are required to be made simple and standardised so that import, export and other trade-related regulations can be complied in a transparent and easy manner. This would give great benefit not only to the traders but also to the government itself. This peculiar problem can be solved by the establishment of a "single window" through which trade-related information and documents will be submitted once only at a single entry point. To be more accurate, a single window concept is a facility that will allow parties involved in trade and transport to lodge standardised information and documents at a single entry point to fulfill all trade-related regulatory requirements of the government.
The Single Window will clearly be a trade facilitation measure in Bangladesh. Its implementation will provide great benefit to both the government and trade. It will permit the trader or transporter to submit various data needed by various government authorities for international trading of goods in standardised format only once to the authorities involved in border controls like the customs or the port and at a single portal. At the same time the operation of a single window will place the responsibility on the entrusted government authority -- for example customs -- to manage the single window efficiently and to ensure that other participating government agencies -- like shipping and commerce -- are either given access to the information or are actually given the information by the managing authority. It will thus eliminate the need for the trader or transporter to submit the same data to several different authorities again and again.
Both the trade and the government of Bangladesh will derive immense benefit by the establishment of a single window system. In such a system the availability and handling of information will increase manifold, submission and approval procedure will be expedited, information flow between the government and the traders will be simplified, inter-change of data amongst government agencies will be enhanced and there will be harmonisation of processes and procedures. At the same time such a facility will reduce paper processing cost for both the government and the traders and will allow limited resources to be utilised in a positive manner. The introduction of the single window system will, therefore, inevitably lead to reduction of bureaucratic red tape and non-tariff trade barriers and will be of mutual benefit for both the stakeholders and the government.
There will be additional benefits too. In a single window system, government agencies like the customs will be able to implement risk management in a better way and utilise limited resources efficiently when and wherever required. With effective application of risk management security procedures will be strengthened, the revenue earning will increase considerably and compliance by traders will improve greatly. The trading community will be benefited by the transparency and accountability under the system. They will be able to predict the results and the time required to process the documents.
If the government of Bangladesh decides to go for a single widow system for facilitating international trade, it has to choose from one of the three basic models which exist for the system. The first is the single authority model. In this case, the single authority will receive the information, either electronically or on paper. It will then circulate this information to all the relevant government authorities. It will co-ordinate the processes and procedures to prevent unnecessary impediments in the processing chain of receivable documents and their approval. For example, in Chittagong, the major port of Bangladesh, the Chittagong Customs House can act as a single authority for the document requirements of the Port Authority, the Commerce Ministry, the Agricultural Ministry and other trade relevant departments.
The second is the single automated system for the collection and dissemination of information. In this system the collection, use, distribution and storage of data related to trade will be integrated. For example, in the Chittagong Customs House, the operational system Asycuda ++ will accept standard data from the traders only once. The system will then process and distribute the data to the government authorities who are concerned with the transaction. In this respect there can be several options. Firstly, there can be an integrated system where the data will be processed through the system; secondly, there can be an interfaced system which will be decentralised and where the data will be sent to concerned government authorities for processing. Thirdly, the system can be a combination of both the first and the second.
The third is the automated information transaction system. In this system a trader will be able to submit electronic trade declarations to the various authorities for processing and approval in a single application; and fees, taxes and duties will be computed automatically and deducted from the traders' bank accounts. When establishing such a system, consideration should be given to the use of a master dataset, which consists of specific identities, which are pre-identified and pre-validated in advance for all relevant transactions. In Chittagong Customs House, for example, Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) has already been established to allow brokers to submit standardised data for export electronically only once to the Customs authority. This system could be improved and upgraded to suit the need.
The writer is the permanent representative of Bangladesh to the World Customs Organisation. This is the first instalment of his three-part
article on the subject