( Nazia Saleem Bhinder )
Directorate of Reforms and Automation ( Customs ), Karachi.
With the beginning of the 21st century, expansion in the horizon of globalization and trade liberation has transposed itself into a huge volume of trade cargo moving across the borders of the country. As requisites of trade potential, assurance of encouraging environment for safe and reliable supply chains across the countries and/or regions taken together with effective controls and enforcement measures; and harmonization of business procedures are key challenges faced by Pakistan Customs.
Luckily, Customs has developed an indigenous system [i.e. Web based One Customs (WeBOC)] which is paperless, web enabled, and an end-to-end integrated automated system to serve as a modern, efficient, effective and corruption free Customs administration. Gradual development and enhancement of WeBOC is aimed at making the system compliant of trade facilitation agreements, WCO data model and Revised Kyoto Convention with regards to simplification and harmonization of procedures. The vision of the Directorate of Reforms and Automation (Customs) is focused on endeavoring to eliminate divergence between Customs procedures and practices that can hamper international trade, international exchanges and the application of Customs procedures/ practices in a predictable, consistent and transparent manner.
Following the success at sea, the footprints of WeBOC has entered into the air industry. Recently, an air cargo import manifestation module has been deployed smoothly in WeBOC w.e.f. 04th January 2015. Separate clearance lanes for ICG, courier, human remains, unaccompanied baggage, mail, dangerous goods and general import have been introduced in the system. Air manifestation classifies into home consumption (HC), Into Bond (IB), Transshipment (TP), Inter-port movement (IP) and transit. In an effort to level the roadmap for secure and safe supply chain, Customs is working with external organizations to establish Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) with airlines. For the said purpose, the Directorate has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on technical cooperation with International Air Transport Association (IATA) on 17th August 2015 at Karachi. The scope of this MoU is to cooperate with each other in the implementation of –
IATA’s Cargo-XML standards in a new automated manifestation framework for the airlines operating in Pakistan, which is WCO compliant.
IATA’s Advance Passenger Information exchange standards, based on UN/EDIFACT, WCO/ICAO compliant.
The objective is to implement standardized simple set of trade-related data that can make it easier for legitimate traders to meet legal, regulatory and administrative requirements by reducing the amount of time, effort and money needed to gather, collate and submit data. According to a USAID study, the World Bank’s Cost of Doing Business Index has ranked Pakistan at the 91st position out of 189 countries in terms of trade across borders1. In comparison with Central Asian Republics like Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, Pakistan’s standing is relatively low. At present, sea terminals (KICT, PICT and QICT), on-the-dock terminals (KPT) and off dock terminals (NLC, Pak Shaheen, AICT and BOML) are EDI based stations under WeBOC for sea cargo clearance. Contrary to sea EDI standards, IATA’s standards are upgraded with high data quality, integrity and more character space. The digital supporting documents such as invoice, packing list and certificate of origin (CoO) are also embedded in the e-manifestation package. Due to multimodal and cross border features of cargo XML standards, Customs authorities like Mexico, Paraguay, Argentina, Abu Dhabi, Qatar, Bahrain, Canada and USA Customs have moved forward for adoption of these standards.
For transition to EDI standards, IATA’s assistance, as per the MoU, will include a review of the technical documentation, a provision of technical guidance, resolution of technical issues, rendering assistance in the testing phase with regards to the development of EDI software until its smooth roll out.
The terms of this MOU are entirely voluntary and will not be deemed to constitute or create any legal binding or enforceable obligations. However, each Party’s rights and interests are reserved with respect to national security, national and public interest or public order, protection of intellectual property rights and confidentiality and secrecy of documents, information and data, to undertake appropriate steps or consultation to ensure that its rights and interests are protected and safeguarded.
IATA has already extended its assistance to Pakistan Customs by sharing the Cargo XML manual and toolkit. In light of the toolkit, the Directorate has developed referential documents and Requirement Specification Documents (RSD) on Cargo XML and API in automated air cargo manifestation frameworks. The same has been duly vetted by IATA’s head office, Geneva. Numerous meetings via video/audio conferencing with Mr. Tahir Syed, (Manager Cargo Electronic Messages-IATA) and Ms. Nathalie Herbelles (Assistant Director, IATA), in the head office, Geneva have been arranged. Out of 22 IATA’s member airlines operating into Pakistan, the Directorate nominated M/s Emirates and M/s PIA for pilot testing of Cargo XML EDI message with Pakistan Customs. After several deliberations with audio conferencing with IATA and the representatives of M/s Emirates, it had been decided that out of 15 components, 5 of the most crucial messages relating to flight manifest message and house manifest messages will be developed and implemented in Phase-I.
The tentative timeline for pilot testing will be planned once software development is completed by the nominated airlines as well as Customs. After successful pilot testing, the rest of the airlines will be brought onboard the same automated manifestation framework for a subsequent roll out of the EDI standards by the end of 2015. Parallel, implementation of API comprising of exchange of passenger data elements by airlines to Customs prior to flight departure or arrival, being visualized for “speedy clearance or prevention to board” of a passenger, at control points is the next goal to achieve.
The main areas of benefits and importance of IATA’s EDI standards are:
- Improvement of efficiency, precision, accuracy, security and safety of data/information.
- Reduction of errors and dwell time.
- Compliance with regulations and facilitation of advocacy.
- Facilitation for implementation and adoption of the e-Cargo initiatives such as the electronic Air Waybill (e-AWB).
- Real time integration and acknowledgement of data enabling less extra physical controls and requirements.
- Prevention of fraud, illegal migration, suspicious travel patterns of passenger under API.
- Provision of pre-arrival e-manifestation of cargo and passengers, 4 hours for long haul flights and at wheel-off for short haul flights
- Easy monitoring and reconciliation of data
- Threat assessment and management of risk profiling of ports from where cargo/passenger is flowing in Pakistan
- Alignment with WCO recommendations regarding dematerialization of paper, thus:
- No hard copies will be required if electronic documents have been submitted
- Customs will rely on electronic declarations (automated verification of information)
- Digital supporting documents may be stored in repositories
With the tenacious and proactive approach of the Director, the initiative like implementation of WCO compliant EDI standards, has expressed the pledge and promise, competence and capability of Pakistan Customs to take Pakistan forward towards modernization.